Russ Ford's Blog

Where the Sun Don't Shine Anymore

If you go to the Ministry of Corrections website you will learn much about their new jail which we will now colloquially refer to as the "New Mimico Jail."  That is not the official name but that is what everyone calls it.

On the website there is mention of the partnerships this jail has with the social service agencies in the local community.  Last week I attended a meeting of community agencies.  Much of the meeting was spent asking each other if anyone knew anything about what was going on at the jail.

The gap between what our criminal justice system does and what it says it does is common practice but perhaps never so acute since the creation of the "secret” jail in Mimico. ( it is actually in New Toronto but other than the locals no one gets the distinction).

So how can you call a 2,000 person facility that took about 500 people three years to build a secret? New Toronto is not some gulag off the coast of Hudson Bay.

Well I use the word "secret" because it was built in secrecy.  Yes, we could all seeing it going up but  no one had to or wanted to talk about  it.  Since it was  on the former Mimico jail site which closed in 2011 there was no reason from a legal perspective to consult.  Zoning was in place, so no need to consult the public.

That is not to say the public was not interested, they just had no way to express that interest.  The Ministry clearly wanted to control the situation, but in doing so  have violated just about every common practice of community engagement.

When engagement does not occur , rumor becomes fact and in the case of something like a prison people tend to go to the extremes.   Will  Paul Bernardo or some reasonable facsimile  be living there.  And if he is, what is in place to ensure he does not escape?

I suspect  the Ministry if it ever decides  to engage the community will try to minimize the concerns . But  is if this is such a safe facility,  why the secrecy?  The  high and I would say unnecessary level of secrecy almost implies you are not being straight about the risks.  Rather than reduce potential opposition  secrecy   actually promotes NIMBYism.

That is not to say that  Corrections is not taking steps to ensure community safety.  What I learned at the meeting is that Corrections are putting a heavy frosting on the glass in the areas where the prisoners are housed.  A representative from John Howard was told it was for security reasons.  Apparently direct sunlight is a security issue.  Who knew?  I suppose quick thinking prisoners could on masse pull out mirrors and blind the guards using the natural sunlight and then escape to the Long Branch GO station.

Another step taken I assume for our security is the use of video conferencing.  When a family comes to visit a family member in the Mimico jail they will speak to them via video conferencing.  The family will be in one part of the jail and the inmate in another.  Further,  the area where the family will be is similar in size to a carrel in a library which means not all  family members  will be able to speak .

This is a provincial jail which means sentences of two years less a day.  Fathers will not had any significant ability to bond with their children for two years because of this.

Yet that the same time we are told not to worry because the inmates are not dangerous, they have not committed an y capital offenses. If they are not dangerous,  why are you treating them this way?

It is because we  can.  We now have the technology. When  you combine technology with a military mindset, this is what you get.

The real issues facing this facility have nothing to do with security real or imagined. I am quite confident that Corrections  has  built a facility that no one will escape.

The real issue is  discharge.  Almost 200 inmates will be discharged each week from this facility.  We know that between a third and a half of them  were homeless at the time of incarceration. We know that the prison population has a higher degree of mental health and drug related issues than the general public.

Given even that small  a descriptor of this population  what are we doing to address these issues. How effectively an individual reintegrates into society after discharge will have an significant impact on whether or not they reoffend.

The solution is what the agencies in the community are proposing.  We want as reintegration centre  that will help an individual have at least a fighting chance of restoring their life.  Services like information and referral, information about government programs and public assistance will be provided in this centre.

You would think even our Ministry of Corrections  would see the value of such a service.  You would think such a facility should almost be a standard practice for any penal institution.

But so far at least the members of the community agencies  have received support from a number of public institutions,  but such support does not pay the rent.

Restricting sun light is not a security issue.  Leaving these former inmates with no means of support is.

It is time we stopped worrying about where the sun shines and started  creating a system that assists people and by doing so promotes  greater community safety. 

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