While these reprints are dated, nothing has changed. The Don Jail still stands and the abuses continue on a daily basis. Nobody cares until it happens to them.
Violent guards beat prisoners.... Prisoners are locked down 24 hours a day for days on end Lock down means three men confined to one 6 foot by 8 foot cell with no vists, no phone calls, no lawyer contacts No showers, no shaving, no basic sanitation, forced to wear the same clothes, including underwear for at least a week. They are routinely strip searched in front of female employees These are men who have NOT BEEN CONVICTED OF ANY CRIME. They are usually on remand denied bail or unable to pay bail, and awaiting trial.
Prisoners and guards both at risk; fails to meet minimum UN standards Toronto - An Ontario judge says Toronto's Don Jail is so overcrowded it's become "an embarrassment to the Canadian criminal justice system." In some cases, three inmates are being held in cells meant for a single prisoner and in others inmates go for days at a time without a chance to exercise, says Justice Richard Schneider. Don Jail dates back to 1863 The situation is so bad that both prisoners and guards are at risk. In fact, the facility no longer meets minimum prison standards set by the United Nations. Justice Schneider made his comments this week while sentencing a man on a firearms charge. Instead of giving the offender four years as prosecutors requested, the judge sentenced the man to one day in jail followed by nine months house arrest. In doing so, he allowed triple credit for the four months the offender had already served while waiting for the courts to process his case. 'Hellish' Christopher Crosier, a jail guard with Local 530 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), said Ontario's Tory government is ignoring a potentially dangerous situation at the jail. Guards risk their safety every time they enter the prison yard to break up disturbances, many of which can be traced to frayed nerves and stress related to overcrowding, he said. The facility is currently holding 691 prisoners - 187 more than its recommended maximum capacity. And some put the real maximum capacity considerably lower. "What's so hellish about the Don?" Bruce Livesey wrote in a 2000 article in Toronto's eye weekly. "For starters, it's overcrowded. Originally designed to house 275 prisoners - one per cell - the jail now houses ... usually three to a cell. This means one must sleep on the floor. Yet the number of corrections officers has declined. Not surprisingly, tension is high. "Loud noise is constant. Mice and cockroaches plague the facility. At least 30% of the jail's population suffers from some form of mental illness. There is limited recreational equipment, and many services have been cancelled.... "Worse, these conditions are forced on people who have yet to be found guilty of any crime, and are presumed innocent. The Don Jail, along with the Metro East and West detention centres, is designed for short-term stays as prisoners await trial. Inmates reside there for 30 to 90 days on average - although some remain for months and even years." Web posted by NUPGE:
SECTION: NEWS PAGE: A03 SOURCE: Toronto Star BYLINE: Nick Pron
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Judge calls Don Jail a shame to the system; Grants man triple credit for time served there Says overcrowded cells don't meet U.N. standards --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A Toronto judge has blasted the aging and overcrowded Toronto (Don) Jail, calling the facility "an embarrassment to the Canadian criminal justice system." Mr. Justice Richard Schneider made the comment yesterday just before he sentenced a 25-year-old man to one day in jail, followed by nine months of house arrest, after he waved a handgun on a busy Toronto street.
Schneider said the jail didn't even meet the minimum standards for housing prisoners as laid out by the United Nations.
The judge went on to condemn the practice of putting three inmates in a cell designed for one person, and then keeping them locked up for days on end without letting them out for exercise.
A prosecutor had called on the judge to sentence Purnell Smith to four years in jail after he took the .32-calibre handgun to the Brunswick Tavern, looking to get even with some bar patrons he had fought that evening in December, 2002. He was eventually disarmed by three police officers, who are being cited for bravery.
But the judge disagreed on the recommended punishment, saying that the four months in custody Smith had served at the Don awaiting trial were so onerous that he was granting a "three-for-one credit," or the equivalent of a year in jail.
Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the ministry of the attorney-general, said the judge's ruling is being reviewed, and a decision on an appeal would be made within a month.
Julia Noonan, a spokesperson for the ministry of public safety and security, said officials are aware of problems at the Don, adding that there are long-term plans for new facilities.
"We recognize it is a crowded facility. That is not what we prefer. We have no control over the number of inmates we receive, and we're trying to meet the challenges," she said.
But MPP Dave Levac, the Liberal public safety critic, called the judge's comments a "slap in the face" for the provincial government, saying the province knew about problems at the jail a decade ago, and didn't act.
A spokesperson for the union that represents jail guards at the Don also accused the provincial government of ignoring a potentially dangerous situation caused by overcrowding at the jail.
The Don is currently holding 691 prisoners, or 187 more than the maximum capacity, said Christopher Croisier, a jail guard and president of Local 530 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
He said the safety of prison guards is put at risk every time they have to wade into a crowded prison yard to break up fights- some brawls the result of frayed nerves caused by overcrowding.
Smith's lawyer, Robin McKechney, predicted that Schneider's ruling would open the floodgates for other defence lawyers to ask for the same credit. Prisoners have traditionally received a two-for-one credit for the time served awaiting trial, known as "dead time."
"If we consider ourselves a civilized society, then we shouldn't force anybody to live under these conditions," McKechney said in an interview, referring to his client sleeping on the floor of the cell he shared with two others, his head near the toilet.
The court heard the 2-by-3-metre cell was originally designed for one person.
Smith and two other inmates were kept in the cell 24 hours a day, for several days at a time, without getting outside for exercise because the jail was short-staffed, the court heard.
"Until the government does something to change the conditions at the Don, I will keep asking for the extra credit," McKechney said.
"At some point, it will become routine for judges to grant it, and rightly so."
BAIL SYSTEM 'CRUEL', JUDGES SAY
12-Day Wait Average In Ontario
Some Sleep On Floor By Toilet
It Was No Ordinary Mother-Daughter Outing.
Betty Vu, 23, and her mother, Muoi Thi Vu, 47, were thrown in jail
after being arrested in connection with a marijuana growing operation
in Vaughan. The law says they were entitled to come before a court
within 24 hours and to have a bail hearing without unreasonable delay,
ideally within that same time period.
But for nearly two weeks, there was no hearing. The Vus were shuffled
from cell to courthouse and back again, sleeping on metal bunks
without blankets and enduring strip-searches each time they returned
to jail, a court was told earlier this year.
Finally, after 12 days in captivity, Betty Vu appeared before a
justice of the peace and was released on $10,000 bail. Her mother's
bail hearing was delayed another day. Their lawyer, Peter Zaduk,
called their experience "Kafkaesque."
But it's no longer unusual in Ontario, where record numbers of people
are packed into jails awaiting their day in court.
They are presumed innocent, but often housed in "cruel" conditions,
creating an "intolerable" situation, said Mr. Justice Ted Matlow of
the Ontario Superior Court, citing the Toronto Don jail as one example.
"To subject someone who is innocent to conditions like those at the
Don jail is reprehensible and hardly anyone in government gives a damn
about it," Matlow told the Star in an interview.
He is one of a growing number of judges calling for an inquiry into
the problems, which include:
*Bail hearing delays. People charged with criminal offences in Ontario
must wait an average of 12 days for a bail hearing after being
arrested, according to the latest figures from the ministry of public
safety and security, which is responsible for policing and jails.
"The system is broken," Zaduk told a justice of the peace in
Newmarket. "I'm ashamed of this."
*jail conditions. The correctional system makes no distinction between
people who are presumed innocent and those who have been convicted and
"They are all treated the same way and that, I think, is fundamentally
wrong," Matlow said.
He recently heard testimony from Don jail security manager Jim
Aspiotis, who said as many as three people are routinely crammed into
1.8 x 2.7 metre cells, with inmates deciding themselves who gets a
bunk. Invariably, the stronger and "more menacing" win out while the
weaker ones sleep on a mattress on the floor, frequently with their
heads next to a toilet.
The mattresses often get soaked when toilets back up and flood the
cells. Opportunities for fresh air and exercise are limited.
And inmates are sometimes only given a change of clothes every two
weeks, the manager said.
The problems aren't just in Toronto. A pregnant inmate was recently
forced to sleep on the floor of a Milton jail cell.
*A soaring remand population. As incredible as it seems, the number of
people held in Ontario jails awaiting trial has surpassed the number
About 63 per cent of Ontario jail inmates, or 52,179 people, were
awaiting trial in 2000-01, according to Statistics Canada. Since then
the numbers are virtually unchanged, correctional officials say.
It's impossible to tell from looking at the numbers whether too many
people are being held in pre-trial custody, said Gary Trotter, a
Queen's University law professor and a leading authority on bail. But
there are definitely "serious problems with the system," he said,
including unacceptably long delays for bail hearings.
In some areas, delays may stem from justices of the peace using
valuable court time for administrative tasks, such as interviewing
sureties, which can be Done elsewhere, but the system also needs more
JPs and prosecutors, he added.
Trotter said the conditions of confinement are also an
The problem is more acute for people awaiting trial than those who
have been tried, convicted and sentenced, said Matlow. "That may be
obvious, but I don't think it is obvious to people in
A member of the public, however, might appreciate how they or a member
of their family could end up in that situation, he said.
"Anyone could be picked out in error as having committed a crime and
it could take many months to unravel the problem. In the meantime, we
could be the ones forced to sit in a cell at the Don jail, sleeping on
the floor with our head next to the toilet, with little opportunity to
get out and get exercise or fresh air."
"If that happened to one of us, we would scream outrage," Matlow
added. "But it goes on all the time."
"I think that one of the very fundamental problems is that there is no
political will - at least there has not been any political will - to
really address these particular problems in the case of people who are
detained while they are awaiting trial."
Monte Kwinter, Ontario's new minister of public safety and security,
agrees there is a problem and says it's "compounded by the fact we now
have some really serious fiscal restraints."
The Don jail, for example, should be closed yet the province just
extended its lease for another year because a place is needed for
inmates in Toronto, he said.
While housing inmates is his responsibility, Kwinter said he has no
control over how many people are sent to jail. He suggested an
existing government committee with officials from his ministry and
other parts of the justice system must look for ways to minimize
In the meantime, although the Don jail "is not the greatest jail in
the world" it is "certainly a clean facility," he said, noting inmates
themselves do the cleaning.
But last September, after hearing Aspiotis describe life inside in
graphic detail, Matlow said he "cannot simply close my eyes, and even
my nose, and continue to send, without protest, human beings to a
place where their Charter rights are violated with impunity while they
await their trial."
"We talk about justice systems in parts of the world that are much
crueller than we are, but ours is every bit as bad," he added.
"We should not be so proud of our system. It's just as bad as any of
Matlow isn't alone in his views. Recently, Mr. Justice Casey Hill, his
Superior Court colleague, said a pregnant inmate's treatment at the
Vanier Centre for Women, part of the Maplehurst complex in Milton,
fell short of standards for jailing prisoners of war under the Geneva
She was forced to share a one-person cell with another inmate and
sleep on a thin mattress on the floor in a "shocking deprivation of
her human rights," Hill said in a ruling released last week, which
overturned a lower court decision denying her bail.
In an interview last month, Hill called for a "multi-partner study"
into why so many people are in pre-trial custody.
Just a week earlier, Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg of the Ontario Court
of Appeal said the number of people held in arguably "inhumane"
pre-trial conditions is putting the integrity of the justice system at
He urged Attorney General Michael Bryant to "take ownership" of the
problem, saying it's also inconsistent with Canada's obligations as a
signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The treaty says prisoners in pre-trial custody should be separated
from convicted persons in a manner appropriate to their status.
When approached by the Star, Bryant refused to discuss the issue
personally, referring the queries to a ministry spokesperson.
The spokesperson said jail conditions are the responsibility of
Kwinter's ministry and bail hearing delays are often caused by defence
lawyers being unavailable for court - but the ministry continues to
look for solutions.
Matlow said someone must examine all the issues and come up with some
comprehensive answers. One option is independent public inquiry,
headed by a judge with testimony from experts.
Former premier Ernie Eves suggested jails were never intended to be
luxury hotels, Matlow noted.
"I guess I agree with that," he said.
"In a perfect world, I suppose, we would take over the Sheraton Hotel
and detain those people there. But that, even I admit, is
Yet, at minimum, inmates considered innocent in the eyes of the law
should have an opportunity for privacy, visits from family members,
access to telephones and their own clothing and "a comfortable, clean
place to sleep," he said.
Dungeon on the Don
Source: Bruce Livesey, EYE Weekly
Conditions at Ontario's jails are appalling, and could get worse as the province takes a more punitive approach "What the fuck am I supposed to do about this shit?" a woman is bellowing, making it impossible to hear what Robert Rousseau is saying. I am in the visitors' gallery of the Don Jail, peering into a gloomy, glassed-in booth at Rousseau, who's talking to me on a two-way phone. The gallery echoes with the cacophony of girlfriends, wives and mothers chatting with inmates. Over the noise, Rousseau is telling me how hard it is to get medical care in the Don. "I am going to drop," the 52-year-old frets. From what I can tell, he's not being alarmist. Rousseau has been in jail for three months, since being arrested in the stabbing death of a Toronto rooming-house resident. But this small, heavily tattooed man with a ghastly yellow pallor looks incapable of getting through the day, let alone killing anyone. His right arm is withered and crippled, and he has trouble uttering a coherent sentence -- a result of strokes. Rousseau has had difficulty sleeping because of back pain, and his cardiac condition is so severe that he needs a patch placed over his heart every day to administer a drug. But at the Don, he initially wasn't given the right patches, and received them at the wrong time of day. He's also had trouble getting colostomy bags, and can't get them changed without a nurse, who isn't always available. "There's often no one around," he says. "This is really hard on me." Now his lawyer fears Rousseau won't live to see a trial. "Given that homicide trials can take two years, and the level of medical resources at the Don, I would be naive not to have concerns about my client having a trial before he dies," says Edward Sapiano. Rousseau's complaints about the Don are by no means unusual. In fact, conditions at the jail are generally considered medieval and inhumane. "The Don Jail is a pigsty," says Wes Wilson, a Toronto criminal lawyer. "It's hard to think of any condition there that's acceptable." Three years ago, the U.S. State Department said the Don was so awful that inmates were pleading guilty just to get out. Indeed, lawyer Clayton Ruby calls the Don a "manufacturer of guilty pleas." What's so hellish about the Don? For starters, it's overcrowded. Originally designed to house 275 prisoners -- one per cell -- the jail now houses more than 620, usually three to a cell. This means one must sleep on the floor. Yet the number of corrections officers has declined. Not surprisingly, tension is high. Loud noise is constant. Mice and cockroaches plague the facility. At least 30 per cent of the jail's population suffers from some form of mental illness. There is limited recreational equipment, and many services have been cancelled. And things continue to get worse: since November, prisoners have been locked in their cells for 12 hours a day -- an increase from nine. Next week, management will impose a smoking ban, a move that ignited a hunger strike at the Metro West Detention Centre in May. "With that amount of overcrowding, no access to recreation, a lock-down of 12 hours, a reduction of cigarettes and a lack of staff," says Lynne Slotek, executive director of the John Howard Society of Toronto, "it's an accident waiting to happen." Worse, these conditions are forced on people who have yet to be found guilty of any crime, and are presumed innocent. The Don Jail, along with the Metro East and West detention centres, is designed for short-term stays as prisoners await trial. Inmates reside there for 30 to 90 days on average -- although some remain for months and even years. "To make the argument they should be punished doesn't wash, because they've not had their day in court," points out Kelly Hannah-Moffat, a University of Toronto sociologist and prison expert. "Yet they're forced to live in a punitive environment where their basic human rights are taken away." The good news is that the Don is slated to close next spring. The bad news is that conditions in the East and West detention centres -- which will remain open -- aren't much better. In many respects, the story of the Don offers a glimpse into the future of the prison system in Ontario. The Harris government is building so-called "superjails" to replace many existing facilities, but critics see this as a move to an American-style, privatized, harsher corrections system that, in the long run, will cause more problems than it solves. "Harsher conditions for inmates could have disastrous results and by no means solve the problems it prophesizes to solve," says Hannah-Moffat. "It taps into a somewhat misinformed public sentiment that getting tough on crime will solve the problems that are incumbent in the creation of crime. The government would be better advised to deal with the root causes of crime, such as poverty." An uninviting concrete and red-brick edifice at the corner of Broadview and Gerrard, the Don was originally erected in 1863, although the section still used today was built in the late '50s. The Don's conditions have never been considered exactly bucolic. In the 1920s, one grand jury called it a "dungeon, like the Black Hole of Calcutta." In 1964, the jail was declared a tuberculosis hotbed and a "sweatbox" during summer. Rudy Pacificador experienced the Don's horrors first-hand during the six and a half years he was incarcerated there. Pacificador arrived in Canada in 1987 as a refugee from the Philippines, found a job, got married and had a child. But back in his homeland, he was accused of being involved in the murder of a politician -- a charge he says is untrue. In 1991, Pacificador was arrested, denied bail and stuck in the Don awaiting extradition. On his first day, he saw one inmate beat another in a dispute about a piece of bread. That night, he lay on a mattress on the floor of his 7-by-8 cell, but couldn't sleep because mice kept running over him. "It's a very violent place," recalls the 44-year-old Pacificador. "People fight for everything -- toast, TV, you name it. You get to the point where you're desensitized." Eventually Pacificador began complaining. "I became quite vocal," he says. For his troubles, he was accused of "inciting a riot" on a number of occasions and thrown into segregation. Pacificador began catching cockroaches, and when a Ministry of Corrections official toured the jail, Pacificador gave him an envelope full of them, much to the embarrassment of the jail's supervisors. He was moved to a cell with an even worse cockroach problem. "Discipline is very arbitrary," he says. In 1997, Pacificador's lawyers launched a court action, arguing that the conditions in the Don constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The judge decided not to hear the Charter case, but did grant Pacificador bail, and he was released in 1998. Today, he's trying to put his life back together while his extradition case continues. But the jail's conditions are burnished on his mind. "Picture it," he says. "You are in a cell with two other people, with one guy on the floor. If you need to take a pee, what do you do -- hold it until morning, or go while standing over someone?" Wayne Kennedy has been in the Don since December on a parole violation. The 40-year-old is in a "range" of 18 cells with 54 others -- three to a cell. "It's disgusting -- they treat you like an animal," he says. Exacerbating his situation is chronic back pain, as well as a nervous condition. Now the stress is pushing him to the edge. "I feel suicidal because of this jail," he remarks. "It's craziness in here." Indeed, these jails have become a dumping ground for the mentally disabled, "because of a shortage of psychiatric forensic beds," says Anita Barnes, program manager of the Mental Health Court Support Services. "These people should be in hospital, but end up in custody for often long periods of time." Provincial cuts mean more people with mental health problems are on the streets, many of whom are arrested for petty crimes. They're thrown in the Don because there's nowhere else to put them. "Hard as jail is for everyone, it's harder for these people," says Daniel Brodsky, a lawyer who represents the mentally ill. "They are the least able to complain." Evelyn Allen, central co-ordinator of the Prisoners With HIV-AIDS Support and Action Network, says inmates with AIDS in the Don don't get access to a primary-care physician, painkillers or adequate blankets. "The stress of being incarcerated is really hard on the immune system of someone who's HIV positive," she notes. Toronto's detention centres are also unpleasant places to work. Thomas George, a corrections officer at the Don for six years, says corrections officers have been leaving due to the Don's pending closure, and that the staff shortage is so severe that officers are pressured to work even when sick. "The staff are overworked, morale is low," he says. Ryan Sellick is a corrections officer at the Toronto East Detention Centre, where 21 staff were cut last month. Built to house 180, it currently has 550 inmates. In his time there, he's had HIV-positive inmates bleed on him and feces thrown in his face. "I've worked 640 hours of overtime this year already," he says. If jail conditions are abysmal now, they could get worse when the Harris government's scheme for the corrections system is realized. Ontario's jails and detention centres house about 7,600 inmates -- one-third of whom are awaiting trial, the rest serving sentences less than two years (inmates with more than two years go to federal penitentiaries). In 1996, the government announced a plan to close 31 older facilities. Now they are upgrading some and building three superjails at a cost of $325 million. At least one -- and likely all -- will be privatized. Overall, the provincial government has taken a "get tough" approach to corrections, closing down halfway houses and the bail program. Sentencing has become harsher, leading to higher rates of incarceration. But experts say these measures will, in the long run, be counterproductive. As will the superjails. Based on a pod design, they house inmates in large rooms, usually monitored by a solitary guard and video cameras. This allows for fewer corrections officers. But the academic literature says that this approach leads to higher levels of recidivism. Says Hannah-Moffat of the superjails, "You're basically kept in this box and watched all day. It's certainly punishment, but in the long term, what does it accomplish?" Ross Virgo, spokesperson for the Ministry of Correctional Services, says the reforms are designed to make the prison system more cost-effective. He claims the new jails should remedy the overcrowding, and that staff reductions have occurred because Ontario is spending too much per inmate compared to other provinces. In regard to the mentally ill, he says, "Anyone being held in jail is because of a criminal matter, not a mental health disorder." Virgo says remedial programs will be offered in the superjails, and that programs were cut to focus resources on those already convicted. Still, if we judge a society by how it cares for the less fortunate, the evidence the Don offers is disturbing. And it appears that more problems lie ahead.
PUBLICATION: Toronto Star DATE: 2003.05.10 SECTION: NEWS PAGE: B02 SOURCE: Toronto Star BYLINE: Nick Pron ILLUSTRATION: :
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Don jail cited yet again as prisoner freed; Wins discharge on gun offences Incarcerated with 'dregs of society' --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The troubles at the Don jail, described as a "medieval and barbaric" facility, have been cited yet again by another Toronto judge.
In the latest case, heard yesterday at Old City Hall, a firearms instructor facing a six-month sentence for weapons charges was told by Mr. Justice William Ross that he had been punished enough during the 30 days he stayed at the jail after his arrest on Oct. 8, 2001. "I'm not going to send you to jail," Ross told Michael Brassard, who has been fired from his part-time position at the Hart House gun club, on the University of Toronto campus, and banned from the building.
Ross gave him a conditional discharge, meaning he won't have a criminal record if he stays out of trouble for the next year.
"Being held with the dregs of society and the scum of the earth would be quite a telling experience, I'm sure," Ross said about the month Brassard stayed at the Don until he was released on bail.
The two Toronto police officers who investigated the case, Detectives Gordon Scott and Marcel Chiasson, later called it a "lenient sentence."
Violence, overcrowding escalates at Don Jail
TORONTO - The second inmate stabbing in less than a week is prompting union officials at the Toronto (Don) Jail to call on the employer for the immediate transfer of inmates from the dangerously overcrowded facility.
Two inmates have been stabbed since last Friday night. Another inmate was caught with a sharpened weapon attempting to defend himself from other inmates in the facility.
"There are simply too many inmates in too little space," says Chris Crosier, president of OPSEU Local 530 at the jail. "This place is a pressure cooker about to explode. You are literally taking your life in your hands when you walk in the front door."
Crosier says that the inmate counts at the Toronto Jail have swollen from the rated capacity of 550 inmates to 676 last Sunday. "The all-time record in here is 678, just two more than what we had on Sunday," Crosier says. "You can't expect to have a group of individuals like these crammed together and not expect trouble
Compounding problems at the oldest jail in Toronto is the lack of isolation cells for inmates who have tested positive for tuberculosis. "Contracting TB is a constant worry in here, especially with the overcrowding problems," Crosier said. "These cells were supposed to have been installed 10 years ago. We're still
Barry Scanlon, chair of the OPSEU Corrections Ministry Employee Relations Committee and head corrections representative, said that this is another example of an employer that refuses to deal with the real concerns of correctional workers.
"The government can spend $ 300,000 on glossy advertising in the Globe and Mail to tell the people of Ontario how wonderful they are, yet they refuse to take any steps to safeguard their employees or the inmates that are in their care," Scanlon said. "Future plans for fancy superjails is not the answer. We need the
Ministry of Correctional Services to invest in the jails that are running right now, and in the staff that are risking their lives to run them."
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