On August 10, we will by cycling from Hamilton to Toronto with a letter for Ontario's premier requesting several specific changes to corrections policy in the pursuit of justice. The actual wording of the letter will be finalized after June's election, when it is known who the audience of the letter will be. Regardless, the requests will be as follows:
To the honourable Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario:
Ontario’s government has repeatedly stated that it intends to end homelessness in Ontario. The best research available indicates that at least 4,000 Ontarians per year become homeless because of incarceration (that is one new homeless person every two hours)! Please know that Ontario will never end homelessness without addressing its corrections system.
In 1975, Canada endorsed the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These values have shown governments globally for decades that the suffering which results from the loss of liberty and freedom by the fact of incarceration is punishment enough. In Ontario however, a quarter of inmates lose their housing in addition to their freedom.
It is a no-brainer for the government to state that it intends to end homelessness - nobody disagrees; nobody wants homelessness. But we are requesting that you boldly do what is right and implement policies to decrease the rate at which incarceration leads to homelessness including through the following:
Request 1:Mandate the Minister of Community and Social Services to continue paying the shelter allowance of OW and ODSP recipients during periods of provincial incarceration (for all inmates on remand custody and for sentenced offenders serving up to a year) directly to landlords in order that inmates and their families can maintain their housing.
Request 2:Mandate that the Minister of Community and Social Services develop and fund a rent bank (perhaps drawing from the interest-free loan model operated by the Toronto Neighbourhood Information Post to sustain tenancies and prevent evictions or from the interest model of OSAP) dedicated to helping provincial prisoners who are not covered by the criteria in Request 1 maintain their current housing. This is a repeated request, following recommendation 1b from The John Howard Society of Toronto’s 2010 report Homeless and Jailed: Jailed and Homeless.
Request 3:Provide additional, dedicated funding through MCSCS or MCCSS towards discharge planning for provincial prisoners upon their admission and through MCCSS for transitional and supportive housing for reintegrating exinmates.
Every Ontarian is safer if former prisoners, once their detention or sentence has been completed, can successfully reintegrate. Stable housing contributes significantly to reducing re-offending among ex-offenders. It is both cheaper and more humane to prevent loss of housing for incarcerated people than to pursue new housing options for them upon release.
Implementing these three policy changes will create a better Ontario from economic, social justice and public safety perspectives. When better to do this right thing than today on August 10, Prisoners’ Justice Day?
Thank you very much for your work.
Ride for ReformJohn Schuurman