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Federal changes will worsen existing provincial jail problems

TORONTO – Staff in Ontario’s provincial correctional facilities are bracing for even more jail overcrowding under new federal crime legislation.

The Conservative government has included major changes to the way criminals are punished in the so-called Omnibus budget legislation passed in the House of Commons this spring. Bill C-10, otherwise known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, includes provisions for mandatory minimum sentences, fewer conditional sentences and harsher sentences for young offenders. The bill will also eliminate double credit for time already served. These changes will stuff more prisoners into already overcrowded jails. Criminologists predict higher costs for taxpayers with no reduction in crime. Corrections officers fear more tension and violence.

“Correctional officers accept a certain level of stress as part of the job,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President. “You stir in overcrowding into the living units and the stress level multiplies tenfold.”

In federal prisons “double-bunking” squeezes more prisoners into jails designed to accommodate one inmate per cell.  In Ontario jails, most single cells have been modified to house two inmates, and often sleep three or even four.

“With the overcrowding we are seeing a level of violence in our jails that is unprecedented,” said Dan Sidsworth, Provincial Chair of OPSEU’s Corrections Division. “Last year OPSEU recorded 485 assaults made by prisoners against Ontario correctional officers, something that is compounded by overcrowding. We fear this trend is continuing and it is only getting worse when added to other issues like the province’s two-year hiring freeze on correctional officers and increased gang activity inside the jails.“

With the changes scheduled under Bill C-10, prisons will only get more crowded through 2020. “The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has no plan in place to deal with this issue,” Sidsworth said. “Two new prisons planned to open in the next two years will only marginally increase prisoner capacity, and will fall far short of the projected total inmate population by that time.”

More information:
Dan Sidsworth: 905-878-8141 ex.2415 (w), 905-691-7955 (c) dansidsworth@cogeco.ca 
twitter @DanSidsworth