Prov­ince can’t be trusted to make changes to jails

The Enterprise-Bulletin (Collingwood) - - OPINION - DAVID REEVELY

On­tario’s Cor­rec­tions Min­is­ter Marie- France Lalonde will re­write the law gov­ern­ing the prov­ince’s jails, she prom­ises, af­ter re­al­iz­ing there are few cen­tral rules for how we treat in­mates who are at our mercy.

She’s driven by a fi­nal re­port from Howard Sapers, for­merly the of­fi­cial in charge of han­dling in­mate com­plaints in fed­eral pris­ons. The prov­ince hired him to tell it what to do about a jail sys­tem so bad it let one in­mate, Adam Ca­pay, lan­guish in soli­tary con­fine­ment for years await­ing a trial, ap­par­ently for­got­ten.

We don’t even know how many peo­ple have died in our jails, Sapers dis­cov­ered, and there are no de­fin­i­tive rules on what’s sup­posed to hap­pen when some­one does.

“Min­istry pol­icy and mem­o­randa pro­vide con­flict­ing di­rec­tions re­gard­ing whether su­per­in­ten­dents must con­tact the next of kin when an in­mate dies,” says his re­port.

Reg­u­la­tions vary from jail to jail across On­tario. The jails were built in dif­fer­ent eras, us­ing dif­fer­ent ideas for how in­mates ought to be kept, and are staffed dif­fer­ently.

“All of that con­spires against best and hu­mane prac­tice,” Sapers said. “When you don’t have enough peo­ple on the job site, you can’t es­cort peo­ple. You can’t get peo­ple onto recre­ational yards. You can’t de­liver pro­gram­ming.

“If the pur­pose of cor­rec­tions is to con­trib­ute to a peace­ful and just so­ci­ety by as­sist­ing those in con­flict with the law to learn to live within it, then the work of cor­rec­tions must be done in a way that models eth­i­cal, le­gal and fair be­hav­iour.”

On­tario’s cor­rec­tions work doesn’t. It models slop, ne­glect and ran­dom­ness.

Take strip searches, which the Supreme Court has found are in­her­ently de­grad­ing and can only be done when there’s a good rea­son. In On­tario, we strip- search in­mates every time they en­ter the jail ( in­clud­ing af­ter trips to court), when they’re in­volved in a fight or dis­tur­bance, are put in soli­tary, and be­fore and af­ter open vis­its. Also, every time their cells are searched, which is sup­posed to hap­pen at least every other week — and, for an in­mate in soli­tary, every day.

We use soli­tary con­fine­ment for ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing in­mates with men­tal ill­nesses.

Who cares? These are crim­i­nals, right? Well, nearly two- thirds of them are await­ing tri­als, but let’s as­sume they’re all scum­bags. As Sapers says, they’re go­ing to get out. Grind­ing a boot into a scum­bag’s face doesn’t get you a re­formed cit­i­zen.

Teach­ing in­mates how to be bet­ter peo­ple works. Help­ing them keep con­nec­tions to sup­port­ive families works. Oc­ca­sional passes work. Pa­role and su­per­vi­sion works. We do al­most none of these things.

Which brings us to Lalonde. She fol­lowed Sapers to the mi­cro­phone at his Toronto press con­fer­ence and agreed with pretty much ev­ery­thing.

“We rec­og­nize that the cur­rent leg­is­la­tion frame­work con­tains lit­tle di­rec­tion on many of the is­sues Mr. Sapers has raised,” Lalonde said. She promised a new cor­rec­tions law this fall — yet an­other ma­jor over­haul of a ma­jor provin­cial law to be squeezed into the next few months.

The min­is­ter sounded as if she meant what she was say­ing, but the Lib­eral govern­ment’s record on jails has been atro­cious. They’ve promised to deal with the abuses of soli­tary con­fine­ment be­fore, too, and af­ter years of not do­ing it, the On­tario Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion brought a case against them last week.

They have hired 1,100 new cor­rec­tions work­ers in the last cou­ple of years, Lalonde said, a big step to­ward re­duc­ing lock­downs.

But they’ve earned no right to the ben­e­fit of the doubt here. We can be­lieve the govern­ment’s good in­ten­tions when we see the prom­ises made real.

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