A letter from the Correctional Reform Coalition (CRC)
April 24, 2020
Hon. Sylvia Jones Solicitor General
George Drew Building, 18th Floor 25 Grosvenor Street
Toronto ON M7A 1Y6
Ms. Deborah Richardson, Deputy Solicitor General
George Drew Building, 11th Floor 25 Grosvenor Street
Toronto ON M7A 1Y6
Dear Solicitor General Jones and Deputy Solicitor General Richardson,
We are writing to you on behalf of the Correctional Reform Coalition (CRC), a group of organizations dedicated to improvements in corrections in Ontario. We commend the work you are doing to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep incarcerated individuals safe to the extent one can in detention and correctional settings. We are writing to you in support of changes you have made to the phone system in correctional institutions in response to COVID-19 and with the recommendation that these changes become permanent in order to promote safety and well- being during this pandemic, and beyond.
In recent weeks, your Ministry has made important changes to the phone system operating in provincial jails and prisons, including allowing prisoners to directly call cell phones and landlines through switchboards. The CRC applauds these reforms that enable prisoners to keep in touch with their loved ones and community care providers.
We are also appreciative of the fact that people in your custody have had $20.00 applied to their phone cards by the Ministry for the months of April and May as part of measures to help them remain connected to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage you to consider increasing the contribution your Ministry makes to prisoner phone cards beyond this amount and extend this practice permanently as a means of promoting (a) family connectedness and the ability to maintain connections to cultural identity, (b) access to justice, (c) safe re-entry planning and eventual release, and (d) alleviating tension inside provincial jails and prisons. This small investment in people under your care will contribute to enhancing community well-being and safety, preventing both future law-breaking and related hardship. Such principled action ultimately contributes to reducing the use and costs of imprisonment.
We would also like to take this opportunity to support you, as well as your counterparts in the Ministry of the Attorney General, in your efforts to safely reduce the number of provincial prisoners in Ontario. As has been noted by public health experts and authorities, criminological researchers and advocates, diverting and decarcerating as many prisoners as is safely possible to do is critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19 behind and beyond bars at this time. When combined with appropriate community supports where they are required, these measures – like the changes made to your jail and prison phone system – are also critical to promoting family connectedness and enhancing public safety.
In addition to the important steps you have taken in response to the COVID-19 situation, we urge you to take the following steps to promote health and safety both inside prisons and in the community:
- Increase the use of temporary absences for people approaching their parole eligibility dates or nearing the completion of their sentence;
- Expand resources available to the Ontario Parole Board to allow them to expedite and expand the number of parole hearings;
- Invest further in community re-entry supports, the most esssential of which is safe, affordable, and in some cases supportive housing that is readily available to people experiencing homelessness post-release; and
- Advocate for other Ministries and municipalities to increase the number of temporary shelter beds available in cases where housing cannot be immediately obtained. This expansion should be into sites where proper hygiene and social distancing is possible.
We are convinced that these measures will not only help prevent COVID-19 transmission and save lives inside your jails and prisons, but that they will also keep our communities safe both in the short- and long-term.
Please feel free to contact either of the Coalition co-chairs, Safiyah Husein and Kaelen Boyd.
We thank you for your time and consideration,
Safiyah Husein Kaelen Boyd
Senior Policy Analyst Policy Analyst
John Howard Society of Ontario Institute for Advancements in Mental Health