In a bid to deal with overcrowding at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC), 71 inmates have been moved to other corrections facilities across the province, CBC News has confirmed.
Most of the 71 will be transferred to facilities several hours away from Ottawa, with lawyers and inmate advocates concerned the distances will make a bad situation worse.
The facilities include:
Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont.
Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, Ont.
Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ont.
All the facilities are all between four and five hours away from Ottawa.
Yousef Hussein had refused to be sent to Lindsay: family
OCDC inmate Yousef Hussein was supposed to be among them, but he refused to leave last week, according to his family.
Soon afterwards, jail officials found Hussein dead in his cell, despite the fact the 27-year-old had been on suicide watch since April 9.
Family spokesperson Ahmad Abouali told CBC the family believes Hussein ended up in segregation after his refusal to go to the facility in Lindsay.
He said the Jordanian national refused to get onto the bus because he didn't want to be disconnected from his family, his only support system.
"He just didn't want to go there," said Abouali.
Families will be shocked, say advocates
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services did not respond to the CBC's request for more information about the inmate transfer.
As for those that have been moved, inmate advocates say they are typically transferred in secret for security reasons, and their families may not find out until they're gone.
Anne Cattral a member of the group Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS), said she expects most families will find the move both emotionally and economically traumatizing.
Many of them won't visit at all, which is bad for the inmate. - Anne Cattral of Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS)
"They'll be shocked," said Cattral Thursday, speaking from a truck stop on her way back from visiting her own son serving time.
"Many of them won't visit at all, which is bad for the inmate." said Cattral, describing a process where visitors are drug tested and searched ahead of each visit. "It's just too much stress."
Sometimes, said Cattral, she's driven three-and-a-half hours to visit her son — only to arrive and find out that the jail is on lockdown and no one can visit.
Research has long suggested that family visits contribute to a safer environment at jails and play an important role in an inmate's rehabilitation, said Cattral, particularly since an estimated 40 per cent of the inmate population has mental health problems.
"People will just give up, I suspect," she said.
Task force learned of mass move during first meeting
A newly announced task force examining the problems at OCDC found out about the decision to move the inmates during its first meeting this week, according to members of the group.
Monty Vieselmeyer with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents guards, said the task force was told 71 people had been moved to alleviate overcrowding — a decision that would bring down OCDC's capacity to below 100 per cent.
Vieselmeyer said he worries these inmates are being moved to detention centres that also deal with overcrowding from time to time, and suspects this move will not be a long-term solution.
It may, he adds, be for the best in the short term.
"I understand the concerns of family members. But from a safety perspective, if you can reduce pressure and move them to a safer location, that makes it safer for the family member," he said.
OCDC had become dangerous: guards
Vieselmeyer said with violent incident reports involving guards and inmates on the rise, the guards feel the situation at OCDC has become dangerous.
The task force was told that inmates were moved according to how much time they had remaining before their trials, with those facing the longest delays being sent to wait elsewhere, Veiselmeyer said
Some lawyers, however, are appalled with the mass move.
"[The inmates] are housed away from lawyers and family members," said Anne London-Weinstein, the president of the Ottawa Defence Counsel Association.
"Fights often ensue as they are perceived as newcomers within an already established prison hierarchy," said London-Weinstein, explaining that being moved back and forth can be very stressful on inmates.
As well, moving inmates can also make it difficult to meet court deadlines, she said.
"Police will often require three weeks notice before they will act on an order to [transport] a prisoner," London-Weinstein said.
Lawyers will try to get clients back: Greenspon
Ottawa defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said attorneys will be scrambling to find their clients and will petition the court to get them back.
Greenspon said the move could end up delaying cases even more, making it hard to see how the decision is a workable solution to overcrowding.
"It's a real problem if the closest place they can send them to relieve the overcrowding is four and five hours away," he said.
"While they're waiting for trial which is when they need their lawyers most, and while they're in custody [is] when they need their families for support. If that's the solution, we're a long way from resolving this problem."