With funding now in place to reform the bail system in Ontario, including a $24-million grant to be used by police forces to better monitor adherence to bail conditions, some community groups in Sudbury are saying that without further consideration to investment in community-based supports while in custody, and upon release, bail reform won’t prevent re-offence.
In April, 2023, the government of Ontario announced $112 million in new funding intended to address the bail system, hoping to ensure that high-risk and repeat violent offenders comply with their bail conditions.
Part of that funding was the creation of a new Bail Compliance and Warrant Apprehension Grant, which came through Jan. 11.
A release states the $24 million will be made available over three years “to help the OPP and municipal and First Nations police services establish dedicated bail compliance teams.” These teams will also assist prosecutors with gathering evidence and assessing public safety risk during the bail hearing stage. This grant funding may also be used to “acquire bail compliance technology or support a network that police services could use to share bail offender information.”
The BCWA Grant program will support 17 municipal police services, four First Nations police services and 12 Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) services.
But executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society in Sudbury, Cory Roslyn, told Sudbury.com changing the bail won’t address the challenges that impact virtually every part of the justice system.
“The argument has been made in Ontario that changing the law to ensure more people are held in jail while waiting for the resolution of their charges will meaningfully enhance public safety,” she said. “Decades of evidence regarding the bail system and the impact of pre-trial detention demonstrates that this assumption is inaccurate – and if used as the basis for legal reform, has the potential to cause significant harm to individuals and the public.”
Roslyn said it is clear to those who work with people who are seeking bail or are in pre-trial detention, that the problems with the bail system are not only a reflection of wider problems in the Canadian criminal justice system, “but also of a lack of investment in community-based supports and services,” she said.
Sara-Jane Berghammer, CEO of the John Howard Society, told Sudbury.com that funding and bail reform are much needed, but so is investment in the idea that incarceration “does not equate to rehabilitation.”
She said if a community is choosing to incarcerate repeat and violent offenders,
“we need to do much better to provide the support they require while behind bars. That is, if we want and expect them to do better upon release.”
Berghammer added that incarceration should be a last resort.
“It is crucial that we do not underestimate the hardship incarceration causes and the suffering that occurs,” she said. “The poor conditions in custody here locally and minimal access to programs and services makes it very difficult that a person would not re-offend.”
Rosyln said the problems with bail are more to do with trouble in every part of the justice system.
“It’s clear to those of us who work with people who are seeking bail or who are in pre-trial detention, that the problems with the bail system are not only a reflection of wider problems in the Canadian criminal justice system but also of a lack of investment in community-based supports and services,” she said.
“If we are choosing to incarcerate someone then we better believe that they can not be properly supervised in the community,” she said. “We also must make certain that while they are being held in custody, they have access to programming and other services in abundance. While in custody, it is the opportune time to provide education, life skills and create stability in a person's life for the purpose of increasing the chances of long-term positive change.”
Roslyn said that those who work to monitor the conditions in jail, like Elizabeth Fry Society and John Howard staff, it is especially important for the state to “bear the onus” of proving that a person’s deprivation of liberty is justified.
“The conditions in Ontario jails are abysmal, with overcrowding, mistreatment of incarcerated people, and lack of supports or programming to name only a few of the issues we have reported on in the past,” she said. “
Roslyn also points to the 2023 report from the Ontario Chief Coroner’s expert panel on deaths in custody, which she participated in creating.
She said it spoke to the issues with bail and pre-trial detention on page 10.
“For more than two decades, remand has accounted for all growth in provincial custody numbers, and now represents almost 70 per cent of the in-custody population,” the report reads. “The dominant profile of the population has become one of complex needs that require health care, mental health care, addictions treatment and recovery, and transition supports that can facilitate continuity of care and success at living in the community. Almost none of these things can be provided to the required degree in any of our prisons, and most certainly not in a prison where lockdowns due to capacity limitations have become the norm.”
The report’s next line is a question.
“If we are to continue using the criminal justice system in this manner, is it not incumbent on us all to at least do it right?”
Rosyln recommends Evidence-Based Approaches to Public Safety, which include:
- Protect the rights and well-being of Ontarians by reducing the number of people in pre-trial detention and increasing non-punitive community-based supports.
- Align bail conditions with current understandings of best practices stemming from social science and the experiences of people with lived experience of bail or pre-trial detention.
- Ensure that any proposed changes to policy or legislation uphold the fundamental rights of all Ontarians.
“If we are choosing to incarcerate repeat and violent offenders, we need to do much better to provide the support they require while behind bars,” said Berghammer. “That is, if we want and expect them to do better upon release.”
Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized communities for Sudbury.com.