One of the reasons I write is to confront the B.S. I find written on the internet or published in various forms of main stream media.
It’s not hard to find inspiration.
I read an article Sunday morning titled, “The Harper Shift – Where’s The Outrage – Thousands are incarcerated in dismal conditions for lengthy periods before seeing their day in court. This should be a scandal, not business as usual.”
The article was published on “Star Touch” a web-based news site associated with thestar.com. It was written by Toronto based criminal defence attorney Daniel Brown – @DanielBrownLaw on Twitter.
After reading the story I knew I had some work to do.
Even though the article was a clear partisan attack on the Harper government, this will not be a politically motivated rebut. I prefer to keep politics off the table and deal with the facts that didn’t seem worthy of mention in the final edit.
Mr Brown provides an interesting history of the “infamous” Don Jail in Toronto and essentially trashes the new Toronto South Detention Center “mega jail” that reportedly came with a $650 million dollar price tag.
The jail opened in 2014 and, according to Mr Brown, has many operational issues that include access to showers, medical treatment, programming and yard privileges.
I take him at his word, no scandal just yet.
The main concern expressed in the article seems to involve the increasing numbers of men and women who are detained in pre-trail custody.
Brown writes, “Since the 1980’s, the percentage of prisoners awaiting trial on remand has risen steadily. As recently as 10 years ago, 60 per cent of prison inmates across the country had been convicted and were serving sentences; the remaining 40 per cent were on remand awaiting trial.”
“By 2010, those numbers had reversed,” he explains.
(In Manitoba, the numbers are actually higher, closer to 66% of those in custody are on remand.)
These men and women, he points out, have not been convicted of any crime.
Brown continues, “And, as any criminal lawyer can attest, an unknown number are likely pleading guilty to offences they did not commit solely to escape the jolting miseries of pretrial detention.”
The story then delves into US trends moving away from longer sentences, mandatory minimums and the three-strikes-your-out policies.
The Canadian populous is next to be called out for our perceived lack of concern for the thousands of nameless citizens who are incarcerated in dismal conditions in our Country before ever seeing their day in court.
The scandal nears…
Brown touches on community indifference, public fear, media sensationalism and “free-falling crime” before he suggests, “Almost all defendants who are granted bail show up for their trials and, if they don’t, they tend to be swiftly apprehended by police.”
Alas, the scandal…
Before we confront the scandal, lets discuss the reason people are held in pre-trial custody in the first place.
As a Sergeant in charge of a Uniform Division in the heart of the City, one of my main job functions was to make decisions regarding the detention or release of persons who came into conflict with the law.
The decision to detain someone must be built on a solid legal foundation with consideration for a number of important issues. Bail may be denied for any of the following reasons:
- To protect the victim (s) of crime
- To protect members of the community or public interest
- To prevent a continuation of the crime or the commission of another offence
- To establish the proper identity of an offender
- To ensure court attendance
Other factors might include;
- The seriousness of the offence (s)
- The strength of the case against the offender
- The offenders criminal record
- Is the offender on charge for another crime
- Does the offender have a fixed address
- Does the offender have a record for failing to appear in Court or failing to follow conditions of release, bail or probation
- Did the offender threaten to kill a victim or witness or obstruct justice by intimidating witnesses
- Is the offender likely to receive a lengthy period of incarceration for their crime if convicted
Translation – people get denied bail for very good reasons.
Where’s the Outrage?
I’m sorry, I have a hard time being outraged when people find themselves sitting in jail doing “dead time” or “pre-trial custody” because of their own past or present criminal behaviour.
That doesn’t mean I’m ambivalent, jaded or “preoccupied with my life and problems.”
It means I believe in accountability.
I believe people have to own their mistakes and face the consequences of bad or criminal behaviour. It’s accountability that’s become antiquated in our modern-day so-called “justice” system.
Here’s the Outrage
The suggestion that almost “all” defendants who are granted bail show up for their trials is outrageous.
In the City of Winnipeg, at any given time, well over 20,000 arrest warrants exist in the records system. The majority of these warrants are court generated for failing to appear, breaching conditions of release or breaching other orders of the court.
In 2013, the WPS added 7,668 new warrants to the system (an average of 639 per month). That same year Police in Winnipeg executed 7,412 warrants.
Police Officers in the YWG call it, “the revolving doors of justice” and it’s a thing.
The System is Broken
Manitoba’s bail system is broken, or so said the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in a number of articles published in Winnipeg during the summer of 2014.
The Association relied on a study entitled, “Set up to fail – Bail and the revolving door of pretrial detention,” indicated the use of pre-trial custody rose nearly 300% over the last three decades.
The report indicates it costs $196 per day to house an inmate in a Provincial jail in Manitoba.
In Manitoba, $119 million dollars was spent on keeping people in custody in 2010 – 2011.
Canada spends $1.9 billion dollars per year on corrections.
Sustainability is an obvious issue.
We Can do Better?
Where Mr Brown and I might agree is in our belief we can and must do better for people who are denied bail because of non-violent offending behaviour caused by contributing factors such as addiction, poverty or homelessness.
These people need community support and access to programming to avoid repeated involvement in our criminal justice system.
I can’t quote any statistics but I suspect the number of people who fit into these categories is significant.
When it comes to violent crime, I’m sorry, I won’t lose a wink of sleep for the thousands of nameless abusers who are incarcerated in dismal conditions in our Country before they ever see their day in court.
Every single extra day those scumbags sit in jail is one less day of suffering and abuse for the unfortunate human beings who are subjected to their despicable violence.
For them, I’m thankful we have jails.
There’s your outrage…