Coalition Against Proposed Prison: Information Session

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Coalition Against Proposed Prison (CAPP) is a group of residents questioning the Ontario’s plan to build a prison for 235 inmates in North Grenville. The Public Information Session on February 2 heard from six speakers outlining their concerns with the prison. Victor Lachance of CAPP moderated this second session held by CAPP. Both can be accessed on CAPP’s website, coalitionagainstproposedprison.ca.

Colleen Lynas introduced CAPP’s reasons for opposing the EOCC: failure to consult and lack of transparency, losing unique farmland, jeopardising North Grenville’s future vision, environmental impacts, failure to demonstrate economic benefits, lack of local infrastructure, a broken bail and remand system, and the fact that the Ontario government is using North Grenville to expand a failed correctional system.

The province argues that the prison must go somewhere. CAPP challenges that argument, explaining that our prisons do not support rehabilitation, and that our corrections system, including the current systems of bail and remand, do not work. We do not need another prison, we need to reduce the number of prisoners on remand. The province made decisions without consulting residents, or our mayor and council. CAPP calls on the mayor and council to take a clear and public position on this. Colleen Lynas maintains that, “in words and deeds, it pains me to say, our council has said, without saying, that they are not opposed, and are not going to challenge the province’s plan in any way. Trying to get the best deal possible is not challenging the province’s plan.” Local resident Lisa Gallant has submitted a request for access to records regarding site selection for the facility. The province claims that they looked at over 100 possible sites, but has not provided any details.

Laura Beach, a Kemptville native, is a PhD candidate studying criminalisation, incarceration, and mental health and illness. Her research shows that prisoners are extremely isolated from the community, and face intense separation from family and community support. This drastically hinders rehabilitation and meaningful reintegration. Isolation is compounded by the lack of public transportation. Video calls and visits are not the same, particularly for children of the incarcerated. Medical neglect ultimately leads to more serious illness. Laura cites a prison in Saskatchewan where two nurses oversee 400 inmates. There is inadequate support for mental health and addiction issues, which are exacerbated in prison, and increasingly criminalised in society. Drugs are available, and medications such as anti-psychotics are over-prescribed as sleep aids.

We need alternatives to incarceration, such as mental health and addiction support in the community. Ontario has the highest rate of criminal charges being withdrawn prior to trial. We need programs where charges get vetted through the Crown Prosecutor, drastically reducing the remand population.

Cathy Robinson and Lydia Dobson of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, spoke of “the foolishness and the mistake of investing in a solution that does not match the problems that we have. The Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa provides support and advocacy to women who have been criminalised, provides a bail house, and surety for bail. A transition house offers addictions counselling and housing support. 82% of federally incarcerated women became criminalised through fleeing abuse. Many have experienced physical or emotional abuse, suffered inter-generational trauma, have addictions or mental health issues, are poor and face precarious housing. The majority are mothers, and 90% of them were primary caregivers prior to incarceration. Cathy says “nothing that we see, as a staff of 40, volunteer of 80, tells us that a single client has, does, or will benefit from incarceration.” They face “horrific abuse” in jails. Black, Indigenous, and racialised people are vastly over represented. They face conditions of confinement that violate human rights and international conventions on human rights against torture, specifically the Mandela Rules, a UN Convention.

Aaron Doyle, PhD, and Nicole Meyers, PhD, have studied pretrial conditions, the remand system, and bail. 71% of people in Ontario prisons are on remand. These are people waiting for trial, often people who do not have someone to act as surety for bail. Many spend longer in jail waiting for trial than they do for their sentence.

Janjala Chirakijja, PhD, studies the local impacts of prisons, and addressed the province’s failure to demonstrate economic benefits. Most positions will be filled by existing staff from the corrections system. These are unionised, secure jobs, but they will not be hiring from the local population. This was emphasised at the Public Engagement Session held by the office of the Minster of the Solicitor General on November 26, 2020. Sourcing for contractors, labour, and materials will go through usual and established tender processes for institutions. There is little chance of a local company being granted any of these contracts. Her research has found a decrease in housing values and a change in socio-economic status nearby prisons. People who can move away often do, leaving those with lower socio-economic status.

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