Thursday, May 25, 2017

Questions about 'correctional transformation' in Ontario as new bail residence for women opens today in Ottawa

by Justin Piché (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)

Just three weeks ago, Ottawa-Orléans MPP and Ontario's chief incarcerator Marie-France Lalonde announced that a new 725-bed jail will eventually replace and address crowding at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC).  This announcement came just over a year after Ottawa-Centre MPP and then Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi stated that carceral expansion amounts to a public policy failure, and on the same day that Howard Sapers and his team released an interim report urging the Liberal Government of Ontario to adopt sweeping changes within its jails and prisons, including most notably recommendations to diminish the use of segregation in the province.

Later today, a ribbon cutting ceremony will take place to celebrate the opening of a new bail residence for women operated and managed by the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa.  Ontario Attorney General Naqvi is scheduled to speak at the event.  No doubt the initiative will be framed by its proponents as a measure to reduce crowding at OCDC, as well as enhance community safety and better respect the rights of the accused.  While there's hope that such an initiative can live up to its promises, several questions still need to be asked.

Central among them is why is the team at Queen's Park, which includes Ottawa-area cabinet ministers, planning to build a new and bigger jail in eastern Ontario if the new bail residence is supposed to result in some prisoners warehoused in OCDC today being cared for in the community tomorrow?  

If the answer given is that a bigger jail and expanded bail residence capacity will work in tandem as part of Ontario's 'correctional transformation', is there not a risk of net-widening, not only because many of those presumed innocent will still be incarcerated at the new jail and perhaps in greater numbers because the beds will be there, but also because those awaiting their day in court who would normally be released in the community with or without conditions may end up under stricter monitoring at the new Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa facility?

Taking these questions into consideration, it's hard to imagine how the new bail residence will contribute to decarceration and serve as an alternative to a new jail, instead of an add-on, in the long-term.  However, another future is possible if the Liberal Government of Ontario and the next provincial administration abandons the plan to build a new and bigger human warehouse in Canada's capital.  If this happens, the arrival of a new bail residence may actually translate into fewer legally innocent people awaiting the completion of their judicial ordeals in an Ottawa detention centre, which would be a step in the right direction for those who acknowledge the unnecessary harms and prohibitive costs of imprisonment.  

Other Questions - New Jail versus EFry Bail Residence in Ottawa

New Ottawa Jail
New Bail Residence

Capacity (net gain)

725 beds
(+140 beds *)


Estimated Costs for Design,
Construction, Finance and Maintenance

$483.3 million to
$773.6 million **


Estimated Operational Costs
Per Prisoner Per Day

$215 ***


Estimated Operational Costs
Per Day (net increase)

(+$30,100 *)


Estimated Operational Costs
Per Year

$56,894,375 (+$10,986,500 *)


* These figures are conservative estimates as others have pegged the capacity at the Innis Road jail to be lower.  For example, the OCDC Task Force report released on 1 June 2016 noted that the facility's capacity was 496 beds, with 440 beds reserved for men and another 56 beds reserved for women.  
** These estimates compiled by the author are based on the costs associated with the design, construction, financing and maintenance of recently completed detention centres in Ontario that were bankrolled through 30-year jail mortgages / public-private-partnerships.  On the lower end, is the cost  per bed at the Toronto South Detention Centre ($1.1 billion / 1,650 beds = $666,667 per bed x 725 beds = $483.3 million).  On the higher end, is the cost per bed at the South West Detention Centre in Windsor ($336 million / 315 beds = $1.067 million per bed x 725 beds = $773.6 million). 
*** Estimates based on average daily prisoner cost in 2015/2016 in the Province of Ontario compiled by Statistics Canada.

New detention centre opens in Sorel-Tracy, #NOPE releases Canadian carceral expansion tracker

by Justin Piché (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)

A new detention centre that will replace an existing 231-bed facility in Sorel was commissioned by the Government of Quebec yesterday.  The human warehouse features 8 pods totalling 300 beds for remanded and sentenced men, with an additional 80 beds in dormitories for prisoners serving weekend sentences.  Based on recent figures compiled by Statistics Canada, the 300 regular beds will cost $64,200 per day and $23,433,000 per year to operate.  The 80 beds dedicated to imprisoning those who live and/or work in Quebec communities during the week for 2 days at a time will cost $17,120 per day and $890,240 per year to operate.  Taken together, the new Établissement de détention de Sorel-Tracy will cost an estimated $24,323,240 per year to operate.

To commemorate the event, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project's No On Prison Expansion / #NOPE Initiative has created a Canadian carceral expansion tracker, which can be accessed by scrolling down on the main page of this blog.  There you will find information about different on-going penal infrastructure projects that, if built, will entrench in brick and mortar our reliance on criminalization and incarceration in Canada for years to come.  

With some facilities still in the planning stages, it is important that a Canadian prison construction moratorium be initiated in order to start building communities, not more jails and prisons in this country.  We continue to invite those who oppose carceral expansion to sign our petition demanding a halt to projects that have the potential to sustain and deepen exclusion.  This petition will be submitted to Prime Minister Trudeau and members of his Cabinet on 1 July 2017 as one step among many being taken to ensure that the next 150 years of this country are not marked by carceral expansion and the deprivation of liberty.  

In the months ahead, the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project and #NOPE Initiative will be organizing events where concrete alternatives to new jails and prisons, along with their benefits and limitations, will be discussed.  A campaign against the proposed new jail in Ottawa is also being initiated in the hopes of increasing local capacity for restorative and transformative justice, as well as services to enhance the collective well-being and safety in our communities.  More information about this campaign will be posted here and on our Facebook page in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.      

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Seniors and prisoners, food, and the shortcomings of the principle of less eligibility

by Laura McKendy (PhD Candidate, Sociology, Carleton University) 

“The province spends less per day feeding seniors than it does feeding prisoners”, reads the byline in a recent article published in the Toronto Star.

This statement attempts to capture the social neglect of our senior population by comparing their treatment to that of prisoners who are positioned as less eligible or deserving of access to adequate food. The article also erroneously implies that prisoners have better food since their meals cost an extra dollar per day in comparison to seniors in Ontario's care. In fact, the food served in Ontario provincial jails and prisons is a far cry from what advocates might use as a benchmark for other institutionalized groups.

Recall that the 2014 report by the Community Advisory Board for the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre condemned meals served to prisoners as “soggy, spoiled or unpalatable”, to the point that “65-90% is uneaten”. In 2015, Matt Day of the Ottawa Sun published an article suggesting that the official menu at Ottawa’s jail didn’t seem that bad. Just weeks later, he conducted a taste test of jail fare and described the food as “barely palatable”.

For Ontario prisoners – many of whom have yet to see their day in court – the institutional diet takes its toll. One prisoner released from Ottawa’s jail explained, “I’ll put it this way, I went in and I was like 225 pounds, and I left, I was about 190”.

While prison food has a reputation for being unappetizing, the food crisis in Ontario penal institutions can be traced back to political shifts in the 1990s. As part of a wider restructuring of public services in Ontario, provincial jails and prisons underwent a ‘modernization’ process, coupled with a ‘no-frills’ transformation.

Before this, on-site kitchens not only provided work opportunities and structured activities for prisoners, but enabled the supply of fresh and nutritious food. As food services were privatized, however, many on-site kitchens were closed. In 2002, the Ontario government entered into a public-private partnership with Compass Group Canada to run a central food production centre at Maplehurst Correctional Centre in Milton, Ontario. Using a ‘cook-chill’ model, food is now mass-produced, shipped to provincial sites of confinement, reheated and served.

It is perhaps no surprise that the quality of meals declined when food became the responsibility of a for-profit company. However, privatization also failed to achieve the cost-savings and efficiency goals that were promised, according to the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario (see reports from 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2010).

Indeed, while private contracts are often seen as a cost-saving measure for taxpayers, an article by Global News showed that provinces using them were spending millions more to feed prisoners. When Saskatchewan was using a public system, they spent $2,312.50 per prisoner in the 2012-2013 year. In comparison, B.C. and Alberta, who have private systems, spent $3,200.00 (27.7% more), and $3,666.66 (36.9% more) respectively.

Of course, those advocating for the rights of seniors and other vulnerable groups in Ontario should be outraged at the incredible costs of incarceration. Taxpayers are paying around $200 a day for each prisoner behind bars in the province. Of the thousands of provincial prisoners in Ontario, most have been charged with a non-violent offence and over half are legally presumed innocent.

If Ontario reduced its reliance on incarceration it could mean millions of dollars more being put towards essential social services and programs in our communities, including for seniors. But using the incarcerated population and their 'frills' as a lens through which to assess the treatment of other vulnerable groups is harmful, fostering marginalization rather than social justice.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Government of Canada promises alternatives to confinement, while funding carceral expansion

by Justin Piché, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)

* Click here to access a version of this op-ed that was published online by the Ottawa Citizen on 16 March 2017 *

Shortly after the 2015 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mandated his Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to conduct a review of penal reforms initiated by the Conservatives during their decade in power. Among the outcomes sought through this process was to increase the “use of restorative justice processes and other initiatives to reduce the rate of incarceration amongst Indigenous Canadians”.

To date, little concrete action has materialized on this front, while new reviews of some mandatory minimum sentences and laws in various sectors impacting Indigenous peoples have been announced. Canadians still don’t know how the broader review of the penal system is progressing. We don’t know what measures the Government of Canada will be taking to build capacity for restorative justice to expand access to processes that aim to meet the needs of perpetrators, survivors, and other parties impacted by criminalized acts, conflicts, and harms. We also don’t know whether a plan to roll-back the mass incarceration of Indigenous peoples – which is intimately linked to colonialism and its oppressive structures that still have reverberations today including the reserve system, residential schools, mass adoption and the like – will ever materialize.

What Canadians do know at this point is that the Liberal Government of Canada is now embarking on a vast infrastructure spending program that currently lacks an overarching strategy to generate economic growth and transform communities across the country for the better. This could perhaps explain why last month $56.6 million in federal infrastructure funding was allocated towards the new $75.8 million, 112-bed Qikiqtani Correctional Healing Centre that is slated to replace the notoriously decrepit and crowded 68-bed Baffin Correctional Centre despite the fact that the Liberals critiqued prison expansion in the Harper years while in opposition. In a jurisdiction whose average cost to house just one prisoner was $597.85 per day in 2014/2015, one would not have to get too creative to find more effective alternatives that would not drain Nunavut’s coffers for decades to come. This largely federally funded project is also taking place in a jurisdiction whose territorial prison system managed the highest adult rate of incarceration in the country (534 per 100,000) in 2014/2015, with Indigenous peoples representing 100 percent of the territory’s prison admissions that fiscal year.

Having not concluded their penal system review, the federal government has still opened the door to funding penal infrastructure that runs counter to their commitments. Having done this, Ottawa should expect more of their provincial-territorial counterparts to come knocking on the door for prison construction funding if they haven’t done so already – jurisdictions like Newfoundland and Labrador whose plan to build a 373-bed facility to replace Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s was put on hold due to decreases in offshore oil revenue.

None of the above is surprising given that the current Liberal Government of Canada is in the habit of making contradictory public policy. For instance, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale announced a National Immigration Detention Framework in 2016 to “enhance alternatives to detention”, while making “key investments in federal detention infrastructure”, which took the form of a $138 million allocation towards renewing migrant warehousing facilities in Laval and Vancouver. With the federal government promising alternatives to confinement as they invest large sums of cash to expand detention and imprisonment, Canadians should again be asking themselves whether Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise to deliver “real change” was really an empty gesture paving the way for more of the same.

Before the Liberal Government of Canada does anything more that will steal time from those pushed to the margins by placing them behind bars in ill-conceived, ineffective, inhumane and costly facilities, it should immediately enact a prison construction moratorium and encourage their provincial-territorial partners to do the same so that promising alternatives to confinement can be given consideration and an opportunity to flourish across the country.