While Ottawa residents gear up for another round of struggle against the city’s expanding police budget, we must also resist the provincial government’s ill-conceived bid to build a new prison in Kemptville while expanding or refitting existing ones in Brockville, Napanee and Ottawa.
In August, the Doug Ford government announced these plans, catching many by surprise. In addition to a lack of transparency and consultation, prison expansion is a highly questionable policy decision for a few key reasons.
The pandemic has forced many rapid social innovations on us. One was that, fearing COVID-19 outbreaks in jails, Ontario was able to reduce its prison population more than 30 per cent, without a rash of law-breaking. Why, then, does the Ford government want to create even more prison spaces? Roughly 70 per cent of prisoners in Ontario jails are pre-trial or pre-sentence, simply awaiting their day in our clogged courts. Provincial officials admit that thousands of these prisoners could safely be on bail, and have promised to reform the bail system for years. So why spend hundreds of millions of dollars on more prison spaces?
In an engagement session on the proposed Kemptville prison, government officials briefly and vaguely cited “system pressures” to justify the massively expensive project, but produced no evidence to back this up, nor any explanation about why building more cells is the best response. Research overwhelmingly shows that imprisonment does more harm than good, traumatizing both prisoners and staff, while increasing the likelihood of future criminalization for those incarcerated.
The 325-bed Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex planned for Kemptville is already drawing pushback from residents. Area MPP Steve Clark and ministry officials are trying to pave over both acres of farmland and contemporary racial injustices. The townspeople’s well-developed plans for agricultural and environmental uses of the site have been shunted aside without meaningful consultation.
Officials claim that, unlike Ontario’s existing prisons, this new one will actually rehabilitate rather than harm. They’ve produced no specifics on how this prison will somehow be different and are largely repeating the same broken promises previously made about many other new jails. Meanwhile they’re planning to import many staff for the new prison from the existing Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, notorious for toxic relations between staff and prisoners. How will the culture of the new prison be any different?
Supporters of this plan should ask how history will view expanding a failing system when so many others are demanding we build a world where Indigenous and Black lives matter. This is a time to pick sides and act to fight systemic racism and injustice. It’s time to say no on prison expansion.
Aaron Doyle, PhD (Associate Professor, Sociology, Carleton University) and Justin Piché, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa) are members of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project.
This content was originally published here.