Shining a light on OCDC’s conditions

The Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) is a provincial jail that has become infamous for over-crowding and violence. Last year, the Ontario Ombudsman André Marin described the jail as exemplifying “everything that is wrong with a correctional institution.”

For example, in 2010 a brain-damaged prisoner had his head split open when a jail guard stomped on him as he lay face-down in his cell. In 2012, Julie Bilotta gave birth to her son on the floor of a segregated cell, ignored despite being in obvious pain and distress. These are just two stories that have made the news. But how often does the public hear about what happens behind the bars?

CPEPThe Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) is joint initiative between Carleton and Ottawa University which brings together students, professors, researchers and community members to engage in research and public education with regards to criminalization and punishment.

In December, they held a public forum to discuss conditions at the Innes Road jail. As lawyer Jason Gilbert said, “When you have cells with three people, with one sleeping on the floor, the jail is going to become a powder keg. And when you have people working in that environment, it’s going to lead to more incidents of violence, more aggression, more problems.”

Event organizer and Carleton sociology and criminology professor, Aaron Doyle said, “We need to move from people saying how terrible things are in there to actually doing something about it.”

CPEP continues to meet and discuss ways to push for change at OCDC. Anyone interested in participating, such as by sharing their own experiences or by assisting with research and public engagement, can find out more at the organization’s website.

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Mothers behind the bars of Canadian prisons

In the last decade, the number of women being incarcerated in Canada is growing at a disturbingly high rate. Between 2003 and 2013, the female federal inmate population increased by more than 60%. For Aboriginal women, the incarceration rate has increased by over 87%.

The harsh government policies which are imprisoning so many women not only impacts those serving time behind bars. Their families suffer too since the majority of incarcerated women in Canada are mothers. Not only that, they are often the sole custodial parents and primary caregivers of their children. They were likely to have been living with their children prior to being incarcerated. Imagine the upheaval caused by the separation. What happens to the children? What happens to the mothers?

Sometimes there is something sensational that happens that draws public attention to the fact that we are incarcerating mothers. For example, in 2012, a young mother gave birth to her son alone in a jail cell of the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre, while guards and nurses allegedly ignored her cries of pain.

But for the most part, we are ignorant about the majority of those who are incarcerated, and especially of the children they leave behind. If we knew more, would we still accept the regressive policies that will only see more women, more mothers, locked up?

If you are interested in knowing more, a recent book, Incarcerated Mothers: Oppression and Resistance, brings together several essays examining the experience of incarcerated mothers, both in Canada in abroad. Authors show that despite lip-service to mothers’ rights to have contact with their children while in custody, the lived experience is quite different.

You can also view a short video called Bonding Through Bars.

If you have any comments about mothers behind bars, please leave them below.

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