Lockdowns, lack of programming, and inadequate health and mental health care continue
to plague the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as free phone calls are cut
10 September 2021 (Algonquin Territory | Ottawa) – The Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) takes phone calls weekday afternoons from Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) prisoners. The hotline has now been in operation for more than 33 months. At the beginning of the hotline’s last quarter, in June, prisoners at Innes Road jail faced a COVID-19 outbreak that had them confined to their cells for more than 23 hours per day due to a facility-wide lockdown enacted in a stated effort to prevent the further spread of the disease. More than 50 prisoner infections and three months later, people imprisoned at OCDC still frequently face lockdowns, whether due to newly detected COVID-19 cases, outbreak scares or so-called staff shortages amid continually increasing ‘correctional’ staffing complements in the province.
Nearly 18 months into the pandemic, JAIL hotline callers are also still reporting that the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General has not reinstituted many of the limited number of programs and activities that were on offer for prisoners prior to the present crisis. Continually deprived of their liberty and exposed to draconian conditions of confinement, access to health and mental health care remains a chief concern amongst those imprisoned at the jail. Obtaining prescriptions like Opioid Substitution Treatment and accessing counselling are just some of the issues callers are facing and trying to address. As an on-going Charter challenge over conditions at the jail by OCDC prisoner Deepan Budlakoti reveals, none of these issues are new. This case resumes today at 10am at the Ottawa Courthouse and may be viewed online.
With the pandemic still on-going and the jail literally on trial, little continues to be offered to people imprisonedat OCDC to alleviate the barbaric conditions of confinement they are regularly exposed to. To make matters worse, the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General inexplicably decreased access to free phone calls from 20 to 2 minutes per month at the jail starting on September 1. Souheil Benslimane, Coordinator for the JAIL hotline, explains the implications of this cruel and short-sighted decision: “Right now, people caged at the jail are being routinely exposed to harsh conditions of confinement all the while not getting access to adequate health and mental health care. Now SolGen’s taking away one of the few things they provided prisoners to alleviate their suffering during the pandemic. Prisoners should have free phone calls as these allow imprisoned people to build and sustain relationships with their loved ones and cultivate support in the communities to which they’ll eventually return. Yet, instead of doing things to make our communities healthier and safer, the province continues to make decisions like this that’ll help fill the new cages they want to build. This cruelty won’t stop unless we organize together to liberate our kin before more people unnecessarily die behind and beyond bars”.
Now in its thirty-fourth month of operations, the JAIL hotline continues to take calls from 1-4pm Monday to Friday. As the initiative approaches its third anniversary since its launch on 10 December 2018, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project is welcoming donations and new volunteers to expand the JAIL hotline’s capacity to work in solidarity with people imprisoned at OCDC to reduce the use and harms of human caging while working towards abolition.
English and French Media Interview Contact:
Justin Piché, PhD
Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa
613-793-1093 | firstname.lastname@example.org