Miscarriage at Ottawa jail prompts renewed call for action on inmates' health
5 years after woman gives birth in jail, advocates say more health-care improvements needed
The Ottawa support group MOMS [Mothers Offering Mutual Support] is calling for the province to move ahead with a 2016 task force recommendation to transfer health-care jurisdiction of jail inmates to the Ministry of Health, from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
The renewed call for change comes after a woman complained about her treatment during a miscarriage in an Ottawa jail cell last month.
Erica Tanny, the lawyer for the 28-year-old woman who miscarried, said her client was bleeding from the time she went into the jail on Jan. 11 at approximately 12 weeks pregnant. Then on Jan. 25, the woman started bleeding "uncontrollably" in her cell.
Tanny said it took 10-to-15 minutes for inmates to get the attention of Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre staff before she was taken to hospital in a prisoner transport van instead of an ambulance.
Before that transfer took place, Tanny said her client suffered a complete miscarriage inside her cell.
A judge called the woman's treatment "inhumane."
Irene Mathias, spokesperson for MOMS Ottawa, said the rate of improvement when it comes to health-care services inside the Ottawa jail has been "abysmally slow."
"There are many echoes of the case of Julie Bilotta which was in 2012. I mean how long does it take us to learn?" said Mathias.
It's been five years since Bilotta gave birth to a baby in the Ottawa jail — after her requests to be taken to hospital were denied. Other former inmates who were pregnant while on remand in the Ottawa jail have complained to CBC about their treatment inside.
Mathias was a member of the OCDC Task Force that delivered 42 recommendations last June.
"Health care figured large in the report because it's the area that is the number one concern of inmates in terms of their complaints to the ombudsman," said Mathias.
While new health care, especially mental health workers, have been hired in Ontario jails, she doesn't think there has been any commitment from the province to turn over health care responsibilities inside Ontario jails to the Ministry of Health.
"Alberta and Nova Scotia both have done that," said Mathias. "With the Ministry of Corrections, the decision making lens is a security lens and often health care becomes a privilege rather than a fundamental right."
But Dawn Moore, a professor of legal studies at Carleton University, isn't sure that giving the jail's health care responsibilities to the health department will really make a significant difference for prisoners.
"It doesn't really matter who's on the other end overseeing and delivering that care, because if the request for care can't get outside the prison walls, literally, then the rest of it is moot," said Moore.
She and her students are currently collecting first-hand accounts from dozens of recent prisoners in both the federal and provincial prison systems — many have been in the Ottawa jail.
"OCDC stands out right now as the worst of the worst," said Moore. "Out of the prisoners and former prisoners we've been interviewing across the province, across the board, everybody says they wanted to get out of OCDC as fast as possible to the point they'd enter in guilty pleas just to get transferred out."
The woman who recently suffered a miscarriage at OCDC is now out of jail.
On Jan. 27 she pleaded guilty to one count of being unlawfully at large and two counts of theft, paid a fine of $1 for each count and a victim surcharge.
Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Marie-France Lalonde, said Friday that her department is investigating the "serious allegations," involving this case, but she couldn't comment further.
"The safety and the well-being of inmates … across the province is my priority," Lalonde said in an interview with Robyn Bresnahan on Ottawa Morning.