Letter – Warning: Adding beds to correctional facilities does not increase public safety

Kingstonist file photo taken inside the former Kingston Penitentiary.

Editor’s note: The following is a submitted letter to the editor in response to the Government of Ontario’s announcement on June 10th of significant increases to correctional beds in provincial institutions, including in the KFL&A region. The views and opinions expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario (CEFSO) is appalled with the recent announcements from the Ontario Progressive Conservative government suggesting it will be repurposing, re-opening, and building facilities to add hundreds of beds in Ontario’s prison system.

The argument has been made in Ontario that changing the law to ensure more people are held in jail while waiting for the resolution of their charges will meaningfully enhance public safety. Decades of evidence regarding the bail system and the impact of pre-trial detention demonstrates that this assumption is
inaccurate – and if used as the basis for legal reform, has the potential to cause significant harm to individuals and the public.

“Incarceration does not improve community safety, but enhances discriminatory outcomes and undermines efforts to combat systemic discrimination and the legacies of colonialism,” says Lindsay Martin, CEFSO advocate and Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Northwestern Ontario.

The Ontario correctional system has yet to successfully address the disproportionate incarceration rates of Indigenous women in Ontario, rooted in historical injustices and systemic discrimination. Instead of allocating funds in correctional bed space, the Ontario government should be investing in culturally appropriate interventions, restorative justice, and policy reforms to address systemic racism, discrimination, and the over policing of Indigenous people.

Furthermore, announcements do not indicate any additional supports or programming will be created to respond to the growing needs of marginalized populations who are at risk of incarceration. The warehousing of people as a response to significant community need, is not only inhumane but poses further risk of continued human rights violations and will not solve the social issues our communities are currently facing. It does not reduce crime rates, recidivism, or create safety.

The conditions in Ontario jails are abysmal, with overcrowding, mistreatment of incarcerated people, and lack of supports or programming to name only a few of the issues we have reported on in the past. 82 per cent of those incarcerated in Ontario Correctional facilities are on remand and not convicted of a crime. The remand population is highly overrepresented by marginalized groups, including those who experience homelessness, poverty, and those who have been criminalized for their mental health or substance use.

Properly resourcing affordable housing, mental health, and harm reduction would be far better investments that the current government continues to overlook or ignore.

The existing abhorrent state of corrections in Ontario should give the public serious concerns about this government’s ability to operate any additional facilities. Existing institutions face constant staff turnover and shortages, creating lockdowns and safety issues.

A recently released report from the Ontario Chief Coroner’s expert panel on deaths in custody spoke to the issues with bail and pre-trial detention on page 10: “For more than two decades, remand has accounted for all growth in provincial custody numbers.”

It continues that “the dominant profile of the population has become one of complex needs that require health care, mental health care, addictions treatment and recovery, and transition supports that can facilitate continuity of care and success at living in the community. Almost none of these things can be provided to the required degree in any of our prisons, and most certainly not in a prison where lockdowns due to capacity limitations have become the norm.”

Recommendations

It is clear to those of us who work with people who are seeking bail or who are in pre-trial detention, that the problems with the bail system are not only a reflection of wider problems in the Canadian criminal justice system but also of a lack of investment in community-based supports and services. Interventions upstream and at the bail stage may also reduce problems in other parts of the system.

The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario would like to emphasize to the public the importance of investing in community and addressing root causes of crime to increase public safety. This approach allows for the implementation of long-term solutions to reduce crime rates over time, and create social and
economic benefit.

CEFSO advocacy

In the past 12 months, CEFSO has completed several on-site visits to the provincial jail sector across the province to monitor the conditions of confinement and to identify human rights violations. CEFSO advocates routinely provide advocacy and prisoner’s rights information to currently incarcerated women and gender
diverse people to ensure that in a system that is clearly dangerous, a person can survive. CEFSO has identified several issues that are currently impacting incarcerated Canadians including strip-searching, segregation, medication cut-off, a lack of physical health care, mental health care or addiction services. In addition to this, there is little to no attempt at release planning or reintegration support at the provincial level ensuring that those exiting jail are at an increased risk of returning.

Council of the Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario

The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario (CEFSO) is the provincial voice for seven Elizabeth Fry Societies in Ontario. CEFSO monitors the conditions for women and gender-diverse people in prison, through visits to jails and direct contact with incarcerated people, and advocates for improvements to those conditions.


Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

One thought on “Letter – Warning: Adding beds to correctional facilities does not increase public safety

  • This letter identifies so many failures of our current system which is still the dumbest, simplest and counter productive approach.

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