News / Ottawa

Lawyer says 'sub-human' conditions at Ottawa jail must be addressed

Prisoners and their supporters need to keep the Ministry of Correctional Services’ “feet to the fire” to eliminate overcrowding and “sub-human” conditions at Ottawa’s Innes Road jail, says a local human rights lawyer.

“It’s a toxic environment. It’s understaffed and there’s people who are triple and double bunked. A guard can’t change that,” said Paul Champ Wednesday evening at a public forum in Ottawa on crowding conditions at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC).

In 2013, Champ helped Christina Jahn come to a human rights settlement with the ministry after she spent seven months in solitary confinement at the OCDC. She was thrown into segregation instead of receiving treatment for mental illness and alleged she was deprived of basic hygiene privileges and cancer medication, among other things.

She was awarded an undisclosed sum of money and the ministry agreed last month to 10 legally binding commitments, including mental health screening for all female inmates and treatment for female inmates who suffer from mental illness.

The Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, an advocacy group formed by Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, organized the forum for about 200 guests.

Organizers read disturbing, personal accounts of former prisoners who claim to have been subjected to everything from being triple bunked in a cell designed for one to being turned down family visits due to staffing shortages.

“You can sleep in front of the metal sliding door or you can sleep with your head two feet from the communal toilet with no lid,” said Justin Piche, on behalf of a former prisoner identified as Eric.

The ministry’s commitment to improve conditions lends hope to change, especially for prisoners with mental illness, according to Champ.

“We don’t have to treat them like sub-human beings,” he said. “We need to do much, much better.” - with files from Torstar News Service

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