This is the kind of place where Ashley Smith died in 2007. It is also the kind of place where Julie Bilotta gave birth on a cement floor last year.
It’s the place where prisons send people to punish the already imprisoned.
I’m writing with pencil and paper from a solitary confinement cell in the segregation unit – the “Hole” – at the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC), a maximum security provincial prison in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Here we spend 23.5 hours a day or more locked in an eight-by-twelve-foot cell. We are allowed nothing but one religious book and a pencil and paper, in addition to our prison-issue clothes (but no shoes) and toiletries (disposable toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of soap, a towel). We get access to the yard – a large caged balcony – for 20 minutes a day, and a shower every second day. On alternating days we’re allowed a 20-minute phone call.
Shoddy paperwork, poor communications and haphazard help for inmates are jeopardizing public safety and compromising the successful reintegration of prisoners back to the street, an internal audit has found.
The review of Correctional Service of Canada’s release process flags a number of problems and policy breaches when offenders — including high-profile and high-risk criminals — are released from custody, such as the proper notification of key stakeholders such as parole officers, police and victims.
While protocols are in place to ensure the “adequate and effective release” of offenders, they aren’t always followed. The audit reveals widespread problems ranging from crucial information missing from files to offenders being released without the resources or documentation that would facilitate a successful transition.
An internal audit of the federal prison system’s process for releasing inmates has found problems that jeopardize public safety and compromise successful reintegration of offenders back into society. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)
“Without proper resources such as medication supplies or proper documentation, such as identification card or health insurance card, offenders’ reintegration into the community may be jeopardized,” the audit warns.
Per capita spending on criminal justice — including federal and provincial jails, court costs and policing — has climbed 23 per cent over the last decade even as the crime rate fell 23 per cent, says a new study by the Parliamentary budget office.
The report, a first-of-its kind, comprehensive look at criminal justice costs over time, put the price tag at $20.3 billion in 2011-12.
The authors looked at direct public spending on policing, courts and corrections, including parole. They excluded costs such as victims compensation, private security and non-criminal matters such as family, environmental and competition law.
A January 2012 Pew study reported that state expenditures on corrections “have quadrupled over the past two decades” with the current estimated cost average of $31,307 per inmate.
One cultural narrative suggests that the social and financial crisis of incarceration is bleak.
Another narrative – the one we are encountering in our documentary interviews – is that the faith community can play a redemptive role for the incarcerated.
When did sentencing policies shift from merely being questionable, misguided or ill-advised to becoming downright absurd?
Blacks and aboriginal people are overrepresented in Ontario’s youth and adult jails, with some staggering ratios that mirror those of blacks in American jails.
A Star analysis of Ontario jail data, obtained by University of Toronto doctoral candidate Akwasi Owusu-Bempah through freedom of information requests, shows:
• In Ontario, aboriginal boys aged 12 to 17 make up 2.9 per cent of the young male population. But in Ontario youth facilities they make up nearly 15 per cent of young male admissions. In other words, there are, proportionally, five times more aboriginal boys in the young male jail population than what they represent in the general young male population.
• For black boys, the proportion of jail admissions is four times higher.
Tona Mills shudders as she thinks how close she came to killing herself inside a federal prison, all because of her mental illness.
The Nova Scotia woman finds it ominous that her story is almost identical to that of teenager Ashley Smith, who died in an Ontario prison more than five years ago and whose controversial death is now the subject of a major inquest.
Tona Mills has a tattoo on her right arm that means ‘survivor.’ (CBC)
Mills, now 40, has spent more than half her life in custody. It started with break-ins and unruly conduct, but most of her time was on charges she accumulated in prison.