Ontario bail system said to be blamed for overcrowded jails

A forum held Thursday brought forward complaints from criminal defence lawyers and former inmates who say overcrowded jails are caused by an Ontario bail system that needs fixing.

Criminal defence lawyer, former inmate decry backlog in courts at Ottawa forum

Almost half of Ontario's jails are overcrowded, say lawyers, caused by court system backlog. 2:10

A backlog at Ontario’s courts needs to be addressed if the province wants to stop an overcrowding inside its jails, say defence lawyers and former inmates.

Out of 29 jails in Ontario, 14 are overcrowded including the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, according to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correction.

That’s why lawyers and former inmates came together to hold a special forum on the issue at Carleton University on Thursday night.

The population at Ottawa’s jail, for example, fluctuates between 550 and 600 when its capacity is just 326, according to criminal defence lawyer Jason Gilbert.

“I'm talking triple bunking. I'm talking about sleeping on mattresses on the floor. I'm talking about sometimes being subjected to 24-hour lockdown,” said Gilbert, deeming the current conditions “unacceptable.”

Deepan Budlakoti spent almost four years in the Ottawa jail after he was convicted on a weapons charge. He told the forum some perceive life in jail is a “good life.”

Jason Gilbert, a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa, says too many inmates are serving pre-trial detention instead of being released on bail. (CBC)

“You're locked in a cell, with three people in a cell. I want people to understand that. They have a perception that people get arrested, they go to jail and they live a good life. You don't live a good life at OCDC,” Budlakoti said.

The solution, according to Gilbert, needs to come from the court system. He said the majority of inmates are those who he believes should be granted bail, but instead they remain incarcerated and serve pre-trial detention.

Gilbert and Budlakoti want the provincial government to improve the bail process so they can help solve overcrowding problem.

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