Innes jail ‘inhumane,’ prisoner says
‘People are really getting fed up’ with disgusting, insect-infested detention centre: inmate
Conditions at the OttawaCarleton Detention Centre are “inhumane,” says one inmate, who is warning that it is only a matter of time before tensions flare at the Innes Road facility.
Stéphane Bernier, 38, said in a phone interview yesterday that inmates are upset with everything from the way they are being treated by guards to the cleanliness of their living quarters. The detention centre holds people awaiting trial and prisoners convicted and sentenced to less than two years in jail. Mr. Bernier is serving four months for a driving offence.
“People are really getting fed up with it,” he said. “If things don’t start smartening up, people are going to get very upset.”
In particular, inmates are frustrated by a perceived poor standard of housekeeping at the facility.
The vents are rusted and filled with lint, eating tables stink and there are “ants and spiders and creepy-crawlies” throughout the dorms, Mr. Bernier said.
“You’re in a dorm with 30 people, no windows open, people are farting, you’re breathing in their farts, it’s just really, really inhumane,” he said.
Even maintaining basic hygiene is a problem, Mr. Bernier said, as inmates must hand in their used bars of soap before being given new supplies. Earlier this week, the jail ran out of soap for several days, he said.
“I shouldn’t have to come off the street and be clean and come into a jail and be dirty and get a little cut and have to worry about getting flesh-eating diseases and stuff like that,” he said.
Andrew Nellis, an organizer for the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union, recently spent five days in the facility. Mr. Nellis says the jail’s “abysmal” conditions are poor enough that they have caught the eye of those in the legal system. He said he knows of at least one judge who last year was awarding inmates credit of three-to-one for time served in pre-trial custody at Innes Road.
“Normally the time you serve before you’re actually convicted counts double towards your sentence,” Mr. Nellis said yesterday. “But because conditions there were so bad, there was a judge giving triple time.”
In 2004, there were two cases documented in the
Citizen where men convicted of spousal abuse received tripletime credit because of the conditions at the jail.
Mark Ertel, president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, said Innes Road inmates do not receive three-forone credit as often as they used to, but it happens occasionally because of the “awful” conditions.
“The Court of Appeal has said that rather than calling evidence about general conditions at the jail (to get the extra credit), you have to prove specific conditions specific to your client,” he said. “But it’s still good law, and there are still judges who do it, if the appropriate proof is there.”
In addition to the insect reports, he has heard clients complain about mice running around the jailhouse floors and inmates sleeping three to a cell.
“It’s a joke,” he said. “In a city the size of Ottawa, that detention centre is a joke.”
Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Stuart McGetrick said a deputy superintendent at the Innes Road facility told him the issues of ventilation, dirty tables and insect problems had not been raised by inmates during an inspection tour on Thursday.
He confirmed that the jail had recently seen “a minor interruption in the soap supply between supply days.”
The staff at the jail does its best to rectify any problems, he said, to ensure that inmates are treated with dignity.
“Our goal is to treat our inmates in a humane manner,” Mr. McGetrick said. “We’re not out there to punish them just for being in the institution.”
The Citizen was unable to reach Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre superintendent Asfia Sultan for comment yesterday.