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news

More Jail Than We Need?

20110317jail1.jpg
Construction of the Toronto South Detention Centre.

Alex McClelland is a member of the Prison Moratorium Action Coalition. In this guest opinion piece he looks at the construction of a new “superjail” in Etobicoke.

Across the country there has been a statistical decline in crime rates since 1999. The federal government’s own data says that Toronto is the third-safest city in Canada. Both self-reported and police-reported crime rates are low in Toronto compared to other municipalities across the country.
In America, prison expansion measures and the “tough on crime” approach have met neither criminal justice nor public health goals. Instead they have led to the widespread incarceration of racial minorities, people living in poverty, people with mental health issues, non-status people, and people who use drugs, all while exacerbating the syndemic of HIV and Hepatitis C. Despite this track record and Canada’s own falling crime rate, Harper’s “tough on crime” agenda is rearing its ugly head in Toronto—and it’ll come with a big social and economic price tag for residents of the city.
One example: currently under construction—at a cost of $1.1 billion to Ontario taxpayers over thirty years—is the 1,650-bed Toronto South Detention Centre located near Mimico. The 67,000 square metre facility, a so-called “superjail,” aims to replace the 550-bed Toronto Don Jail.


20110317jail2.jpg
The facility will be largely composed of pre-fabricated jail cells, which arrived on-site already built and have been stacked to form the various wings of the prison.


Last week on March 10, about sixty people gathered at Old City Hall on Queen Street with the Prison Moratorium Action Coalition for a rally to protest this government direction. The coalition was formed in opposition to “tough on crime” and prison-expansion measures; it aims to put pressure on the Conservative government, and any companies assisting with their prison expansion plan, until funds are diverted into social services and appropriate social housing. As Justin Piché, a renowned critic of the federal and provincial “tough on crime” agenda, has noted, the cost of this new prison is so great that “those of us in our late twenties… will still be paying for the construction of this facility well into our fifties and its operation likely until the day we die.”
Piché’s research has found that these new institutions are being developed based on the argument that the “prison population is no longer a homogeneous population,” meaning: politicians and corrections bureaucrats need a way to deal with the increasing number of women, undocumented people, those with mental health issues, and drug users who are being incarcerated, not to mention the many indigenous peoples who have always been overrepresented in Canada’s prisons. (While indigenous people make up around 4% of the Canadian public, they make up 17% of the federal male prison population and 33% of the federal female prison population. )
Currently, many prisoners are double-bunked at the decrepit Don Jail, a practice that runs counter to the United Nations standards governing the treatment of prisoners, which Canada has signed onto. Although officials may have been saying that we need the new Mimico prison to replace the Don, other prisons constructed in the past ten years (e.g., Central East Correctional Centre and Central North Correctional Centre) were also supposedly built to replace the Don Jail, which has been slated for closure for decades. This brings new life to the adage “if you build it they will come.”
And why not build? After all, big prisons are big business. Following in the footsteps of the American-style prison industrial complex, the Mimico facility is credited with being Ontario’s first pre-fabricated prison. Tindall Corp., one of the leaders in the American privatized prison industry and the inventor of pre-fabricated prison cells, is bringing its invention to Toronto via Zeidler Partnership Architects. Toronto’s Zeidler Partnership Architects (whose projects include the Eaton Centre, Ontario Place, and the refurbished Gladstone Hotel) have designed the new prison as part of a $593-million contract with Toronto-based companies EllisDon Corporation and Fengate Capital.
20110317jail3.jpg
But while big prisons will make big Toronto businesses more money, they are not economical for the taxpayer: beyond the $1.1-billion price tag for construction, the annual cost of housing a prisoner in Canada can run anywhere from around $52,000 to $250,000 per person, depending on the level of security at the facility [PDF].
On top of this, Canada’s prisons have become super-hubs of HIV and hepatitis C infection. Rates of HIV and hepatitis C are far above the general population, with HIV prevalence at least fifteen times higher in federal prisons than the general public and hepatitis C prevalence almost forty times higher. (Averting just one HIV infection saves approximately $150,000 in lifetime medical costs, not to mention the massive social cost). Building new superjails without addressing the existing health crisis among prisoners will only lead to more of the same.
When it is completed in fall of 2012, the South Toronto Detention Centre in Mimico will be a $1.1-billion super-prison, the first of its kind for our city and province and an acknowledgment that political games and big business mean more than the lives of marginalized residents of our city.
With thanks to Sandra Chu of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Giselle Dias, and Lindsay Hart for support on this piece.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/jordynmarcellus Jordyn Marcellus

    Larger prisons only further increase recidivism. You know, if we invested one dollar in early crime prevention and reparative justice, we'd save seven dollars. But we don't care about the empirical facts, instead, it's all about ideology!

    Ssorry gaiz I don't have proof — a correctional psychology prof explained it in a class I took, and I'd probably have to do an Google Scholar search and _a bit_ lazy.

    $1.1 billion could make a lot of kids in Lawrence Heights, St. Jamestown and Jane and Finch feel like they're part of a community and offer opportunities to express themselves, reducing their frustration with a system that can lead to joining gangs and the like.

    It could also be used to FIX OUR HILARIOUSLY BAD MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM. Considering how many people in Canadian prisons suffer from mental health issues (and that, if you deal with those mental health issues, they won't be as recidivistic…) it's insane. The MHS is a travesty across Canada.

    Seriously, the tough on crime agenda is just pure ideology bent on vengeance. It doesn't work, it just makes taxpayers pay more for something that, quite frankly, doesn't work for most of the criminals out there and just means they'll re-offend again — criminals thieves and small-time hoods end up becoming trapped in the system.

    If a government really wanted to respect the taxpayers, they'd invest in making sure prisoners can come out of prison prepared to tackle the world head on, as opposed to what happens now: leaving them angry, alone and bitter. Plus, with the sheer amount of prison rape going on, probably suffering horribly from some kind of mind breaking trauma.

    Personally, I'm all for a tough on crime agenda as long as it includes white collar criminals. Investigate 'em, try 'em, lock 'em up in superjails. But that won't happen, because white collar criminals make up a significant Tory base.

    oh snap.

  • rich1299

    And this super jail isn't even a part of the Harper Con's prison building spree, just imagine the costs we'll have to pay as taxpayers to lock up people for growing 6 pot plants not to mention the incredible social damage done to those being locked up for very minor crimes, whatever happened to the notion of the punishment fitting the crime? these sorts of tough on crime solutions only serve to create a criminal underclass and make crime worse. If they worked then the US with more of its population in jail than any other country in the world, would have the lowest crime rates yet they have much higher crime rates than Canada currently does, though if we keep going down this road Canada may start to approach the US crime rates.

    We would save a lot of money and a lot of people's lives, both victims and criminals if we actually invested in crime reduction programs instead of locking people up after the fact. Our mental health system is seriously lacking and we're busy cutting social support programs under the ruse of ending the gravy train. The more we spend on social, metal health and addiction programs the less we'll spend locking people up after the damage has been done. Its much better and cheaper to avoid having crimes committed in the first place and that's quite achievable but it takes the will of our gov'ts to do so and that will is lacking with Harper in Ottawa and Ford in City Hall committed to cutting the city's share of social programs.

    Write your MPs, your MPPs, and your local councilor and demand that we as a society invest in social programs that lower the crime rate instead of spending massive amounts to lock people up after the fact.

  • http://twitter.com/gilmourtaylor Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

    If this facility means we can close the Don, I'm all for it. (Or rather, if this facility means we WILL close the Don….) The Don Jail was built to support an ancient and barbaric form of punishment and correction. It should have been closed 50 years ago. That we are forcing inmates to double-bunk there adds to the shame.

    While I agree that there are urgent reforms needed to our justice system, as Alex outlined in the article, we have to improve the living conditions of the people currently incarcerated now, not wait for two less-than-super jails to be constructed. It may not be justice, but at least it's one-prisoner-one-bed.

  • Toronto_Dave

    Well said, Jordan. These tough-on-crime policies are absolutely about political posturing and vengeance more than about crime reduction.

    I'd take this further and argue that, in addition to being used as a means of making the policymaker look “tough”, it's also used to bludgeon anyone who questions these policies or suggests an alternative strategy. I recall a Tory memo that discussed the benefits to be had in going up against those elitist academic types and liberal politicians who would dare oppose their “tough on crime” agenda.

    When not sufficiently informed on the issues, the appearance of toughness trumps the formulation and implementation of sound policy.It's about simplifying a complex, multi-faceted issue into an emotional one based solely on fear-mongering and perceptions of safety (as opposed to reality).

    It all fits into their line of argument/propaganda: who's going to keep you and your children safe? Strong Stephen Harper? Or some weak-kneed, criminal-coddling liberal professor who thinks he's smarter than you?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ILZOWXX5IU26V2ZPZYMPKLWMSA Randy

    We so badly need better thinking on crime and punishment–no, rehabilitation. Lock 'em up works if we're aiming for a dysfunctional future, sure.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    This is just a super-jail. The Conservatives intend to build super-duper-jails. Just look at the name—how can you oppose that?

  • http://twitter.com/jordynmarcellus Jordyn Marcellus

    Larger prisons only further increase recidivism. You know, if we invested one dollar in early crime prevention and reparative justice, we'd save seven dollars. But we don't care about the empirical facts, instead, it's all about ideology!

    Sorry gaiz I don't have proof — a correctional psychology prof explained it in a class I took, and I'd probably have to do an Google Scholar search and I'm _a bit_ lazy.

    $1.1 billion could make a lot of kids in Lawrence Heights, St. Jamestown and Jane and Finch feel like they're part of a community and offer opportunities to express themselves, reducing their frustration with a system that can lead to joining gangs and the like.

    It could also be used to FIX OUR HILARIOUSLY BAD MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM. Considering how many people in Canadian prisons suffer from mental health issues (and that, if you deal with those mental health issues, they won't be as recidivistic…) it's insane. The MHS is a travesty across Canada.

    Seriously, the tough on crime agenda is just pure ideology bent on vengeance. It doesn't work, it just makes taxpayers pay more for something that, quite frankly, doesn't work for most of the criminals out there and just means they'll re-offend again — criminals thieves and small-time hoods end up becoming trapped in the system.

    If a government really wanted to respect the taxpayers, they'd invest in making sure prisoners can come out of prison prepared to tackle the world head on, as opposed to what happens now: leaving them angry, alone and bitter. Plus, with the sheer amount of prison rape going on, probably suffering horribly from some kind of mind breaking trauma.

    Personally, I'm all for a tough on crime agenda as long as it includes white collar criminals. Investigate 'em, try 'em, lock 'em up in superjails. But that won't happen, because white collar criminals make up a significant Tory base.

    oh snap.

  • rich1299

    And this super jail isn't even a part of the Harper Con's prison building spree, just imagine the costs we'll have to pay as taxpayers to lock up people for growing 6 pot plants not to mention the incredible social damage done to those being locked up for very minor crimes, whatever happened to the notion of the punishment fitting the crime? these sorts of tough on crime solutions only serve to create a criminal underclass and make crime worse. If they worked then the US with more of its population in jail than any other country in the world, would have the lowest crime rates yet they have much higher crime rates than Canada currently does, though if we keep going down this road Canada may start to approach the US crime rates.

    We would save a lot of money and a lot of people's lives, both victims and criminals if we actually invested in crime reduction programs instead of locking people up after the fact. Our mental health system is seriously lacking and we're busy cutting social support programs under the ruse of ending the gravy train. The more we spend on social, metal health and addiction programs the less we'll spend locking people up after the damage has been done. Its much better and cheaper to avoid having crimes committed in the first place and that's quite achievable but it takes the will of our gov'ts to do so and that will is lacking with Harper in Ottawa and Ford in City Hall committed to cutting the city's share of social programs.

    Write your MPs, your MPPs, and your local councilor and demand that we as a society invest in social programs that lower the crime rate instead of spending massive amounts to lock people up after the fact.

  • http://twitter.com/gilmourtaylor Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

    If this facility means we can close the Don, I'm all for it. (Or rather, if this facility means we WILL close the Don….) The Don Jail was built to support an ancient and barbaric form of punishment and correction. It should have been closed 50 years ago. That we are forcing inmates to double-bunk there adds to the shame.

    While I agree that there are urgent reforms needed to our justice system, as Alex outlined in the article, we have to improve the living conditions of the people currently incarcerated now, not wait for two less-than-super jails to be constructed. It may not be justice, but at least it's one-prisoner-one-bed.

  • Toronto_Dave

    Well said, Jordan. These tough-on-crime policies are absolutely about political posturing and vengeance more than about crime reduction.

    I'd take this further and argue that, in addition to being used as a means of making the policymaker look “tough”, it's also used to bludgeon anyone who questions these policies or suggests an alternative strategy. I recall a Tory memo that discussed the benefits to be had in going up against those elitist academic types and liberal politicians who would dare oppose their “tough on crime” agenda.

    When not sufficiently informed on the issues, the appearance of toughness trumps the formulation and implementation of sound policy. It's about simplifying a complex, multi-faceted issue into an emotional one based solely on fear-mongering and perceptions of safety (as opposed to reality).

    It all fits into their line of argument/propaganda: who's going to keep you and your children safe? Strong Stephen Harper? Or some weak-kneed, criminal-coddling liberal egghead who thinks he's smarter than you?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ILZOWXX5IU26V2ZPZYMPKLWMSA Randy

    We so badly need better thinking on crime and punishment–no, rehabilitation. Lock 'em up works if we're aiming for a dysfunctional future, sure.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    This is just a super-jail. The Conservatives intend to build super-duper-jails. Just look at the name—how can you oppose that?