Ottawa

Julie Bilotta calls for 'serious change' at public forum on OCDC conditions

A woman who gave birth in an Ottawa jail cell was among an estimated 300 people who turned out for a public forum on the conditions at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.

300 people turned out for emotional speeches from former inmates, relatives of current ones

Julie Bilotta says her late son is her "main inspiration" for speaking out on the conditions at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. (CBC)

Julie Bilotta, the woman who gave birth in a jail cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in 2012, is calling for new protocols for pregnant prisoners and an end to the practice of keeping mentally ill inmates in segregation for extended periods of time.

Bilotta made the comments Thursday evening in front of an estimated 300 people at a public forum on the conditions at the jail.

"[Pregnant prisoners] should have access to all the same healthcare options as they would if they were not incarcerated, and nothing less," Bilotta told the audience.

Bilotta's son died about a year after he was born, prompting her to launch a $1.3-million lawsuit against the province and the jail, claiming his death was related to the circumstances of his birth

Bilotta received a standing ovation from the audience after she delivered her speech Thursday at a public forum on conditions at the jail. (CBC)

Bilotta was in segregation when she went into labour and claims guards and medical staff ignored her calls for help.

After the forum, Bilotta told CBC News she's seen nothing but "empty promises" from OCDC and the province when it comes to improving conditions for all prisoners at the jail.

"My hope for [OCDC] is that there's a serious change," said Bilotta. "These are people's lives, these are people's loved ones. And there's nothing more important than someone's life," said Bilotta. 

13 new correctional officers set to start work

Thursday night's forum was attended by other former prisoners, relatives of current inmates, experts and Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi, who also spoke at the event.

Concerns about the jail include overcrowding, inmate suicide, segregation, staff shortages, food issues and an increasing number of lockdowns.

To help address those concerns, 13 new correctional officers will start at the jail on Monday, according to Denis Collin, president of OPSEU Local 411, which represents jail guards.

Thirteen new correctional officers will start at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Monday, according to Denis Collin, president of OPSEU Local 411. (CBC)

Collin was at the forum and told CBC News the new hires will help to ease jail lockdowns that result from staffing shortages.

But he said an additional 75 new correctional officers are still needed.

"We're kind of hoping that the flow will just keep going towards us, and that the ministry just keeps its focus on our institution in regards to putting staffing levels where they should be," said Collin.

A task force established by Naqvi is currently working to come up with a plan to deal with the ongoing problems at OCDC.

Naqvi said it's on track to meet its deadline of June 1.

A task force that's working on a plan to deal with OCDC's ongoing problems is on track to meet its June 1 deadline to file a report, according to Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi. (CBC)

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