Thursday, April 9, 2015

Upcoming forum at Ottawa City Hall on the 'chronic crisis' at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre

by Aaron Doyle, Associate Professor, Sociology, Carleton University 
and Laura McKendy, PhD Student, Sociology, Carleton University

We could say conditions at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) are in crisis, but the word ‘crisis’ often means a short-term emergency, and people have been pointing to a crisis at OCDC for decades.
On Wednesday, April 15th, 2015, at 6:30 pm, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project is holding a public forum at Ottawa City Hall about the terrible conditions at the detention centre and what the community could do about them. The crowding, which has three or sometimes even four prisoners jammed into 8 foot by 10 foot cells built for one or two, is in large part a consequence of Ontario’s severely dysfunctional bail and remand system.
Most people in OCDC (roughly 70 to 75%) are on remand, meaning they are waiting in jail for a court appearance, rather than waiting in the community. Research by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has shown that it has become harder and harder to get bail in recent decades, especially in Ontario, helping fuel a jail population explosion that has tripled the remand population since 1978, and includes many people locked up for relatively minor breaches of bail conditions.

OCDC has been severely crowded and under-resourced for decades. The jail opened in 1972, and by 1976, it was already capturing news headlines as being clogged due to court delays and for being ill-equipped to deal with prisoners dealing with mental health issues. In 1989, the Ottawa Citizen reported that OCDC prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest crowding, insufficient clothing changes, and lack of telephone and yard privileges. Earlier that year, the guards’ union spoke out about conditions, saying the jail was crowded, understaffed, and unsafe. A union representative, Joe Benard, stated that “it's like a powderkeg waiting to go off".

Fast forward to today. We have seen repeated protests by prisoners and by guards, much negative media attention, condemnation from judges, who were granting triple credit for time served at OCDC due to the poor conditions, and a number of lawsuits. Yet, conditions at OCDC have somehow only gotten worse. In 2012, a woman, Julie Bilotta, gave birth to her baby boy on a cell floor when it was too late to get to a hospital, after she had been crying for help for hours.
Chronic crowding and shortage of staff feeds into a number of other problems at the institution. There are large numbers of individuals with mental health issues in the general population and segregation, and very limited psychiatric services. There are repeated stories of prisoners not getting their medication. Access to medical and dental care, and to drug and alcohol treatment, is also very limited. A prisoner who wanted drug counseling told us recently that he had been unable to get it more than three months as Narcotics Anonymous was turned away repeatedly at the jail gates as guard shortages meant the program could not be offered. The brief 20-minute chunks of yard time are repeatedly cancelled due to lockdowns or staff shortages. Supervision by guards in the communal units is minimal, leading to abuse and intimidation of more vulnerable prisoners by others. Food distribution in such units is not supervised by guards, leading to complaints that prisoners do not get their share of food. As one former prisoner described OCDC to us, “It’s just an anger factory”.
How has OCDC managed to continue down this path? What can we do to help reverse it? To join in the discussion, come to CPEP’s public meeting at Ottawa City Hall on Wednesday April 15 at 6:30 pm.
Confirmed speakers include former prisoners, the chair of the new Community Advisory Board for OCDC, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, a spokesperson for a group of mothers of OCDC prisoners, and lawyer Paul Champ, who brought a successful case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal after a woman with cancer and mental health concerns was kept in solitary confinement at OCDC for more than 200 days that has yet to translate into fundamental reforms.
The event is free and open to all, and refreshments will be provided.

Facebook event:
For more information, contact Dr. Aaron Doyle from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University, (cell 613-799-1954) or Laura McKendy, PhD student in Sociology at Carleton University, (cell 613-898-1518).

1 comment:

  1. I am a former inmate of the OCDC and I can assure that all that has been stated above it completely accurate and much more could be added !!! I was in segregation for a period of 91 days by my own choice. But regardless of the fact that I was by choice I was still denied the opportunity to attend any services such as NA, AA meetings as well as Church services and other spiritual
    services. During my incarceration I was denied yard as well on many occasions my medication with the staff knowing that it was imperative I take medication at the specified orders of my family Dr. I certainly hope that someone will have opportunity to read my letter.

    Thank you and Regards