by Steve Gabell
One of the core values of the Green party of Ontario is social justice. How does the proposed correctional facility in Kemptville relate to this?
Correctional facilities are expensive: it costs around $300 per day to incarcerate someone, and the province spent $928 million to keep people in jail in 2020/21. The provincial system deals with people who are sentenced to less than two years, or who are awaiting trial. According to Statistics Canada, 60% of adults are sentenced to less than 30 days, and 30% are sentenced to less than one week. Why are we spending such huge amounts of money imprisoning people who receive such short sentences?
Of the population being held in provincial correctional facilities, 70% are being held while awaiting trial, according to a 2019 report. We are spending $300 a day to deprive people of their liberty, when they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Some people may not have a fixed address, or may not be able to put money up for bail, but why should these people be incarcerated? Could they not be tagged and be required to check in with police or probation services on a regular basis instead? Of those being held on remand, 75% are held for less than a month, while 50% are held for less than a week.
There is a huge degree of systemic racism within our provincial corrections system. An academic report last year revealed that 1 in 15 young black men, (18-34 years old), in Ontario experienced jail time, compared to 1 in 70 young white men. Ontario incarcerates more black men (4,109 per 100,000) than the USA does (2,417 per 100,000). Indigenous peoples are also over represented in provincial correctional facilities across Canada, making up 31% of the provincial prison population and only 4.5% of the Canadian population.
We also know that around one third of inmates are either diagnosed with, or suspected of suffering from, mental health issues. Correctional staff do not have the training to deal with these mental health issues, leading to increased sick leave for staff and increased costs. It should go without saying that the overwhelming majority of people with mental health issues do not pose a threat to anyone, and that the tiny number who do should be treated at secure psychiatric facilities, not held in prisons.
A substantial number of prisoners are also living with drug use, and drug use should be treated as a healthcare issue, not a criminal issue. The last 40 years have given us ample evidence that criminalising drug users does not work. Being held in a correctional facility creates a significant risk of overdosing for people who go back to using drugs after their release, as they may have lost some of their tolerance.
Our provincial criminal justice system needs urgent reform. We are spending huge sums of money incarcerating people awaiting trial, or who are sentenced to less than 30 days in prison. We disproportionately imprison young black men and indigenous peoples. We imprison people with healthcare issues, rather than treating their healthcare needs. Instead of spending money on building new prisons, we should be spending money on preventing crime by addressing the root causes such as poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, unemployment, and substance misuse.
Your local Greens oppose the construction of the proposed correctional facility on social justice grounds, and this is before we even start considering the ecological impact.
Make your voice heard in the provincial elections later this year and vote for candidates who oppose the prison, not ones who have been instrumental in driving roughshod over local concerns.