TOP TEN REASONS TO STOP JAIL EXPANSION IN OTTAWA
AND DEMAND MORE COMMUNITY-BASED ALTERNATIVES
“We have to focus on the root causes. By building more jails, you are essentially building more capacity, and five years from now you’ll be at square one. You haven’t addressed the real problem. What we need to focus on is to reduce the demand for jails”.
– Former Ontario Corrections Minister Yasir Naqvi in April 2016.
One year later, his government announced the new and bigger jail.
1. In May 2017, the provincial government announced a new and larger jail would replace the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). This decision was made without consultation with the public or stakeholders.
2. Unnecessarily bigger and wasteful: The proposed new 725-bed jail will be able to hold 25 percent more prisoners than the 585-bed OCDC. The provincial government has yet to present compelling reasons for building a jail that is 140 beds bigger than the current one. Jail expansion is especially unnecessary and wasteful at a time when the Government of Ontario is implementing measures to reduce the prison population across the province.
3. Bigger isn’t better: OCDC has been a toxic environment marked by suicides and abuse, extended use of solitary confinement, notably for prisoners living with mental health issues, little or no therapeutic or recreational opportunities, and grossly inadequate food, medical and psychiatric care. While the provincial government argues that a bigger facility will improve conditions of confinement, new provincial jails like those in Toronto and Edmonton haven’t delivered on their promises to be more humane settings for prisoners or staff.
4.Victimization and the rate of sentenced prisoners has been declining for years: With police-reported victimization and the rate of sentenced prisoners declining since the 1990s, why do we need a bigger jail?
5. Most OCDC prisoners are waiting their day in court: About two-thirds of prisoners at OCDC are pretrial and awaiting court dates, usually for months, often for years. This remand population has grown massively due to clogged courts and problems with the bail system. The province is pouring money into measures like duty counsel and bail beds which should reduce the number of prisoners in remand. Why expand jail capacity at the same time?
6. A new and bigger jail will only deepen inequality: Indigenous people are 2 percent of Ontario’s population, yet 13 percent of its prisoners. Research shows Black prisoners often spend longer behind bars awaiting trial than their white counterparts charged with similar offences. Many OCDC prisoners are poor and homeless. We all have a responsibility to end discrimination, not further entrench it through jail expansion.
7. We will continue to jail those living with mental health issues and drug users: In 2016, then Corrections Minister Naqvi estimated that at least 25 percent of OCDC’s prisoners were living with mental health issues. A large number of prisoners are drug users. Corrections ministers and officials say repeatedly their goal is for these people to get help in the community, not be incarcerated. Making a new jail bigger than OCDC is the wrong way to start.
8. Massively expensive: According to Infrastructure Ontario, it will cost between $500 million to $1 billion to design, build, finance, and maintain the new ‘Ottawa Correctional Complex’ through a public-private-partnership. The new jail will also cost around $30,000 a day or $11 million a year more to run than OCDC. This money could be spent in the community to enhance our collective safety and well-being, while keeping people out of jail.
9. Do something with that money to help now! The provincial government plans to start construction on the new jail in 2020 and open it in 2023, while large gaps in community care and services exist need to be filled today.
10. Imprisonment doesn’t work. Historically, jails and prisons have proven both very costly and to fail in meeting their stated objectives. Criminological research shows that incarceration is the least effective way to enhance safety or deter law-breaking. Imprisonment damages prisoners, along with their loved ones and communities.