Ford vows to build more jails

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Just as you thought the whole jail issue was quietly slinking away into obscurity, Doug Ford has managed to raise the heat again. In a press conference on the issue of housing at the beginning of the month, the Premier was asked about overcrowding in Ontario prisons. There have been serious complaints from correctional officers, families of prisoners, and criminal lawyers about the problem, demanding that the government put more funds into easing overcrowding and replacing outdated and unsafe facilities.

A report by CBC noted that: “Data obtained by The Canadian Press through freedom of information laws shows the majority of Ontario jails are over capacity. Meanwhile, the province has said 81 per cent of inmates in provincial jails are awaiting trial and presumptively innocent”. This fact seems to be lost on Ford, who reasserted his “tough on crime” philosophy at the press conference.

“I’m going to be building more jails and I’m not worried about the criminals,” he said when asked about the overcrowded system. “I’ll build as many jails as we need to put these criminals behind bars for a long time.”

Ontario jails are for people accused of criminal acts, but not allowed bail, as well as those serving a sentence of less than two years. Any sentence longer than that is served in a federal facility. One of the problems with the current system is that it takes an exceedingly long time for an accused to get a bail hearing, and so they stay in jail far longer than necessary.

The pressure on correctional officers, as well as on prisoners who may well be found innocent after spending a long time behind bars, has led to an increase in assaults on officers, cases of PTSD, and even suicides, according to their union, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

Ford seems to confuse these accused but untried prisoners with more dangerous criminals, and spoke out strongly against carjacking, a rising issue for police in Ontario. These were the people Ford said he wants to keep “behind bars for a long time”. For all the strong words, however, building jails to keep possibly innocent people behind bars “for a long time” is not a true reflection of the situation. If most of the occupants of Ontario jails are waiting for bail hearings, then it makes more sense to speed up the bail hearing process, rather than spend millions on more prisons. If a sentence of under two years is a “long time”, then Ford’s declaration is a little over the top. Sentences longer than that involve federal prisons, not provincial; again, no need for Ford to get worked up over it.

The real argument for more prisons is the overcrowding that exists now; but that needs not be a permanent problem since, as pointed out, the bail hearing process can be accelerated. That would seem to be a more logical, efficient, and economic solution to the problem. But it may be difficult for Ford to back away from his strong man statements about building more prisons, and return to a more reasonable and rational policy that would make sense. But making sense is not really the main characteristic of the entire prison issue.

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