Saturday, August 11, 2012

Updated Aug 18: Prisoner Justice Day Higlights Prison/Jail Overcrowding

Please scroll down to read and view videos of the events for Prisoner Justice Day.  And let me know if you would like to add anything here. 
See Ottawa for Aug 17 update

Sudbury, ON
Remembering those who die behind bars

Prisoners' Justice Day ceremony held outside jail
By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life Staff

As the chaplain at the Sudbury Jail, Rev. Genny Rollins has a better idea than most what life behind bars is really like.

The local Anglican priest does her best to comfort prisoners, holding several church services at the jail on Sundays, and counselling prisoners on several other days throughout the week.

“To tell you the truth, God called me to it, or I wouldn't be here,” she said. “That's all I know. I have compassion for them, I have understanding for them and I will try to help them in any way I can.”

On two occasions, though, Rollins has done something which she said was “very difficult.” She accompanied jail officials as they broke the news to family members of prisoners who have committed suicide behind bars.

“I feel it's a privilege to be there to sort of give them a hug, because maybe I've talked to that inmate a few days before,” she said.

“Maybe they've shared things with me, and so I'm in a place where I can say 'I know they loved you and they just thrived so much on your being able to visit them.' It's good to be able to bring that comfort to the family.”

Rollins was in front of the Sudbury Jail with about 20 other people Aug. 9 as part of a ceremony in honour of Prisoners' Justice Day, which commemorates the men and women who have died from unnatural deaths inside prisons and penitentiaries.

The priest led the participants in prayer, a group of musicians played hymns, and a drumming group from the N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre played an honour song.

Paper lanterns decorated by female prisoners participating in an Elizabeth Fry Society – Sudbury chapter's arts and crafts program were also placed on the steps outside the jail.
Kelly Henry (above), ongoing support and volunteer services co-ordinator at the Elizabeth Fry Society- Sudbury chapter, and Julie Gravelle, bail supervisor with the Elizabeth Fry Society- Sudbury chapter, show off some of the paper lanterns created by women in an arts and crafts program run by their organization at the Sudbury Jail. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
Kelly Henry (above), ongoing support and volunteer services co-ordinator at the Elizabeth Fry Society- Sudbury chapter, and Julie Gravelle, bail supervisor with the Elizabeth Fry Society- Sudbury chapter, show off some of the paper lanterns created by women in an arts and crafts program run by their organization at the Sudbury Jail. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

“We spoke with the women about Prisoners' Justice Day and what it means to them,” Kelly Henry, ongoing support and volunteer services co-ordinator at the Elizabeth Fry Society- Sudbury chapter, said.

“The women created these bags, and they will be out here in front of the jail from now until late tomorrow evening, and they will be all lit up.”

John Rimore, executive director of the John Howard Society of Sudbury, said the official date for Prisoners' Justice Day is actually Aug. 10.

“We're commemorating it today because men and women behind bars have asked us to reserve Aug. 10 for them,” he said. “It's a day where inmates fast, refuse to leave their cells and pray. So it is a prisoners- and inmates-led initiative, and we adhere to their wishes.”

Prisoners' Justice Day was started after a prisoner named Eddie Nalon committed suicide in 1974 by slashing his inner elbow, severing all the veins and arteries, while in the segregation unit of the Millhaven Maximum Security Prison.

On the one-year anniversary of Nalon's death, prisoners at Millhaven refused to work, went on a one-day hunger strike and held a memorial service, even though it meant a stint in solitary confinement.

One the second anniversary of his death, a one-day hunger strike was held in prisons across Canada. Prisoners' Justice Day is now commemorated around the world.

Rimore said the rate of violence in jails — including suicide and homicide — is much higher than in the general population.

“Our community should be very concerned about these situations and issues, because most people who are incarcerated do leave the institution,” he said.

“They serve their time and are released. If they live in a situation where there is violence, they bring that violence with them. It's very difficult to leave that violence when you come back to the community to reintegrate, to become a positive member of our society.”

I attended the service at Church of the Holy Trinity for Prisoner Justice Day.  I was also privileged to help organize the event. I was really touched by the speeches made yesterday, particularly those made by former prisoners.  This years theme was female prisoners and I was really heartened to see quite a few women getting up and speaking out.  One Native Canadian woman talked about her time inside.  She talked about segregation and "special" treatment for Native folks, mentioning how she had been tossed in there naked, without bed or blanket and believed that to be what segregation was until she began noticing that she was the only Native woman among the women in seg at that time, and also the only naked woman with literally nothing in her cell.
We heard from 2 other women who work in the GTA as harm reduction workers, women with lived experience and one of whom was speaking at a public venue for the first time.  Their words, the stories they shared, their way of telling about the work they do, the loving and empowering, non-judgmental environments they are striving to provide for other women....I felt really touched.  It was really impactful.
 Awakening CD Cover
Spirit Wind, a women's hand drum group which performs regularly at the Native Canadian Centre were also incredibly inspiring.  The deep crescendo booming throughout the church conjured images of women throughout the ages, drumming similar drums, mourning their lost... accompanied by beautiful, strong, and powerful female voices (some of whom are survivors of the system) was overwhelmingly touching.  One could feel the solidarity.
 Toronto Prisoner Justice Day Events - Video by Occupy Toronto



Many of the supporters which the media chose to quote had reformist ideas to share calling for improved and humane treatment of prisoners at Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre.  While its extremely important to gain public voice through media regarding the treatment of prisoners - particularly with the ongoing 24/7 lockdown at Elgin, I prefer to hear calls for abolition. (my two cents)

Jail rally brings out decent crowd, inmates feel support


Rally rumbles at troubled detention centre
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1

Any time the cacophony of whistles, bells and chants died down a little, it was possible to hear the inmates of the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) banging on the prison’s walls in response to the rally taking part outside.
Bearing signs with slogans such as “Inmates are still human beings” and “Treat prisoners properly,” nearly 50 people gathered outside the prison Friday evening (Aug. 10) to show their support for those incarcerated inside.
In recent weeks, an almost relentless stream of complaints and concerns regarding conditions at the EMDC, such as overcrowding, poor sanitation and violence, have saturated the media and the people involved in the rally made it clear they want those concerns addressed.

Crystal Day, who joined the rally since she has a boyfriend and friends incarcerated at the facility, said she receives almost daily reports from inmates she knows about cases of guards ripping up prisoners’ mail or family photos, tear gas being used on inmates and frequent assaults.
“People need to hear about it. They need to know what’s going on in there,” she said. “People need to step up and say ‘Hey, we’re not a third-world country.’ We treat our pets better than this.
“Yes, these are criminals, but why not rehabilitate instead of making the situation worse, making it so that when they come out, they can function even worse in society than before they went in.”
Photos by Paul Everest/London Community News
With the prison often on the verge of riot and numerous lockdowns taking place, Day said she constantly worries about those people she cares about who are behind bars.
“It rips me apart. I never know from one day to the next if I’m going to get my phone calls tomorrow telling me that, yes, everything’s OK, that they made it through another night without being beat up or anything happening.”
As for a solution to the EMDC’s problems, she suggested the province should, instead of closing down older jails, keep correctional facilities open until new, larger prisons in other parts of Ontario are completed.
“That way there’s not the overcrowding, and if there’s not the overcrowding, the guards don’t have to deal with as much, the inmates don’t have to deal with as much and there’s going to be less friction,” Day said.
Anthony Verberckmoes, a rally organizer and a member of the Occupy London movement, said the point of the gathering was to tell the inmates inside the EMDC that some members of the community stand in solidarity with them.
He added rally attendees also wanted to try to lift the inmates’ spirits.
“It’s pretty frequent to feel that nobody cares in the world when you’re sitting in a jail cell. Even if you have some support, it’s a lonely, lonely feeling.”
Verberckmoes said the province needs to fix the situation inside the EMDC soon, but also needs to answer questions on how conditions became so poor in the first place.
“I would personally ask, how did it ever get to this point?” he said. “Before we’re even dealing with it, how does it get to the point where you have even three times the number of people in the facility that there’s supposed to be?”
When asked if he was concerned that the rally might incite actions within the facility that could cause the inmates to be punished, Verberckmoes said if such a situation were to happen, the group would organize further rallies to address such punishments.
Rally attendee Ed Betterley said any punishments against inmates due to the rally would show just how much Ontario’s correctional system has deteriorated.
“It would be a sad commentary about the system if there’s repercussions for them. Unfortunately, if there is, that’s one of the things were fighting,” he said. “They’re citizens in jail and we all have the chance of, at some time, going to jail and I don’t want my rights suspended if I go there.”
With between 20 and 25 clients at the EMDC at any time, defence lawyer Keli Mersereau said she has seen deplorable conditions inside the facility first-hand and agreed that the prison has it backwards when it comes to dealing with inmates.
“Jails are made to punish, not be punishing, and this facility is very punishing.”
She added she attended the rally “to add some legitimacy” to the concerns being raised and said the public needs to know most people incarcerated at the EMDC are awaiting trial and many have not been convicted of a crime.
“I think the public often forgets that people are innocent until found guilty. We should not be treating people in such an inhumane fashion simply because they’re accused of something,” Mersereau said. “And even for persons who have been convicted, it’s not acceptable to house them in conditions like this.”
Teresa Armstrong, the NDP’s MPP for London-Fanshawe, also made an appearance at the rally and said she was planning to meet with the minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services (CSCS), who is responsible for the prison, to address concerns about the facility and look for solutions.
Last week, CSCS’s assistant deputy minister said the province is working to improve conditions at the facility for inmates and guards.
Earlier this week, the ministry announced it was installing 350 cameras within the EMDC at a cost of $5 million to address concerns about inmates not being properly monitored throughout the facility.
“While I cannot get into specifics on how we manage our security systems, I can assure you that staff will have the ability to constantly monitor all cameras at all times,” a ministry spokesman wrote in an email. “No additional staff will be required to monitor the cameras.”

 Escalating inmate tensions put corrections officers at risk: OPSEU
Since the inmate unrest started five days ago, the detention centre has called in tactical units known as Institutional Crisis Intervention teams to bring order and control to the situation.
London (1 Aug. 2012) – Five days of escalating inmate tensions inside the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre is putting the health and safety of corrections officers at risk, says the union that represents staff at the facility.
For full press release, click here

Star exclusive: Violent assaults in federal prisons on the rise

Story on Ongoing Issue of Increasing Violence - Partially Related to Overcrowding


See the below link for the Collins Bay Protest 

 August 15, 2012

Raising Justice, Reducing Harm

Ottawa Prisoners' Justice Day raises awareness on the impact of prisons on drug use

Prisoners' Justice Day in Ottawa focused on harm reduction this year. Above: a collaborative art project dedicated to those living in incarceration and those who lost their lives in prison was part of the day's activities. Photo: CSCS
"Whether it's the Alberta tar sands or our role in Haiti, The Dominion has the guts to look at Canada without the fairytales about our national virtue that comfort and blind us... Only readers like you can keep this crucial voice alive and growing louder. Please, pitch in!" --Naomi Klein
OTTAWA—The issue of harm reduction in prisons dominated the presentations at the Prisoners’ Justice Day event held in Ottawa, at the Jack Purcell Community Centre on August 10. The event included a table fair, a prisoners’ book drive and presentations from organizers and former inmates.
“Prisoners’ Justice Day is a day of solidarity, to honour and remember all prisoners who have died unnatural deaths while incarcerated, and to cast light on the on-going human rights issues present in prisons,” said Jennifer Rae, a member of Campaign for Safer Consumption Sites in Ottawa (CSCS), in a speech. “This year, [the] day will also focus on the need for harm reduction policies in Canadian prisons to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and save lives.”
CSCS, an organization that promotes dignity and respect for all drug users, was one of the many community groups organizing this event. According to her speech, estimates of HIV and Hepatitis C prevalence in Canadian prisons are respectively 10 times and 20 times the estimated prevalence in the rest of Canada, and are especially high among drug users. Additionally, suicide rates in prisons are seven times higher than the general Canadian population, and between 2005 and 2010 there were over 33,000 formal complaints from prisoners, mostly regarding lack of health care in federal prisons.
Caleb Chepesiuk is the Harm Reduction Program Coordinator at AIDS Committee of Ottawa, another group organizing the event. The group provides support and promotes the wellbeing of people affected by HIV/AIDS. Chepesiuk said that the prison policies do not provide a space for safe drug use, encouraging the spread of infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
“The policies create more harm for people who use drugs than the drugs themselves,” he said. “There has been a call for a needle distribution system in prisons for years now…and this is being actively ignored by our politicians and bureaucrats.”
Chepesiuk added that even people who are on trial or spending shorter periods of time in prisons are also at a risk of facing many problems.
“Whether it is a couple of weeks or a couple of months, [those policies] disrupt any efforts of getting employment, or housing, all those different pieces that really help build a healthy community,” he said.
On August 10, inmates in Canada and in prisons around the world went on a hunger strike in memory of Eddy Nolan who bled to death in Millhaven Penitentiary in Ontario on August 10, 1974. That incident along with a four day riot that resulted in the death of two inmates at the Kingston Penitentiary in 1971 led to major improvements in the Canadian prison system.
Inmates also released a statement on Prisoners’ Justice Day, written by Alex Hundert, and Mandy Hiscocks, both community organizers who are currently imprisoned on charges related to activist organizing around the G20 Summit, in Toronto in 2010. The statement was written with input from more than a dozen inmates inside the Central North Correctional Complex in Penetanguishene Ontario.
Similar events were held in other Canadian cities such as Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver, Montreal and Sudbury.
Crystel Hajjar is an Ottawa-based writer, organizer and climate justice activist.


  1. The things going on in our jails in Canada would be seen as crimes against humanity if they were done to prisoners of war in any other country. Why are these issues being done to inmates even just people held in remain waiting even for bail hearings. There is a trend of our empowered to drag their feet in the justice system. These delays are costing tax payers on a daily basis. The wheels of justice are slowing been dragged to make the discomforts of the inmates to plea to crimes they have not committed in order to say that law enforcement is doing their jobs. At the same time people are not been protected it is merely a smoke screen in order to support demands for across the board funds. At the same time they are not giving inmates prescribed medications and treatments. This is only to make the pain and suffering greater for all in order to extract false testimony and intimidation tactics in-order to try give the public that they are doing their job. Mean while this torture is spreading threw institutions mounting issues that are also being covered up even been silenced in the hearings of the Human rights hearings such as Tribunal hearing of the human rights file # 2009-04447-I The hearing should be heard as it effects all persons entering any institution in Canada all our rights are being violated

  2. Anonymous - thanks for sharing your analysis of what is indeed a horribly corrupt, bigoted, hypocritical "system" which serves only itself - never the vulnerable it testifies to protect!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this article. you lot of great work in the community. with the need for the districts to have website and clubs too must have a website.