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Do Ontario prisoners need more phone access?

When Krista tried calling a 24-hour mental-health crisis line from an Ontario jail, she says, she couldn’t connect. “I tried three or four times, and it wouldn’t go through. I was having a mental breakdown … in here, they don’t care,” says Krista (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) from inside a provincial detention centre.

Advocates, academics, and prisoners themselves suggest that barriers to accessing services remotely from inside prison are common. Experts say that they are the result of an outdated telephone system that is overseen by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General and, since 2013, has been contracted out to Bell Canada.


Even if a family has a landline — and nearly one-third of Canadian households did not in 2018, according to Statistics Canada — the cost of collect calls from prison can be burdensome. Justin Piche, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, says that, “for a long-distance collect call from an Ontario jail, it’s 25 bucks for 20 minutes … That’s being borne directly by prisoners’ families or their friends.”

Documents produced in response to a 2017 freedom-of-information request filed by Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt revealed that the Ontario government has been receiving a commission from Bell Canada for these collect calls. While the exact figure has been redacted, Piche, also the co-founder of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, has calculated that Bell Canada and the provincial government have collectively taken home millions of dollars from friends and family members of the incarcerated.


Read Tebasum Durrani and Clara Pasieka’s full article: TVO

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