Prison impact in sentencing…

Feb 1, 2023 

Canadian Bar Association – Dale Smith
What is cruel and unusual punishment? In a pair of rulings on mandatory minimum sentences, the Supreme Court of Canada directs lower courts to consider the impacts of imprisonment on offenders with particular vulnerabilities.

In recent rulings the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a mandatory sentence and in another upheld a mandatory sentence, still leaving intact the mandatory.  Says Lisa Kerr of Queen’s:  “Kerr notes that the court found that judges should avoid thinking of imprisonment as an abstract mathematical calculation. They should instead consider how prison infrastructure and culture will impact those with particular vulnerabilities…Support for these ideas can be found in cases tracing back several decades, but this is the most forceful contemporary confirmation from the Supreme Court,” says Kerr. “This decision sends a message to lower courts that will be relevant to all of their sentencing decisions.” When deciding on the fitness of a sentence, they must “consider what prison will actually be like for this person, given how prisons operate and the consequences and impacts it delivers.”

Toronto Star – Peter Edwards

192 Ontario jail deaths call for urgent action on staffing and drug screening: landmark report – “Almost every life lost in our sample could be deemed a preventable death,” concludes a landmark new report on eight years of deaths inside Ontario’s 25 correctional facilities.

Though obvious, it needs be said that the protection of the incarcerated is the first obligation of the prison services, yet it seems to fail glaringly in the stats just released.  “With very rare exception, almost every life lost in our sample could be deemed a preventable death,” concludes the report, released Tuesday under the title: “An Obligation to Prevent.”  The report was authored by Tracking (In) Justice.  In it, the panel cites especially the impact of low staffing levels in Ontario’s 25 correctional facilities, finding that inadequate staffing was a factor in the jails’ inability to manage the rise in deaths…In 2014, 19 persons died while in custody in Ontario facilities, the report states. In 2021, that number had risen to 46.”

Canadian Press
Toronto vulnerable to legal challenge after precedent-setting encampment ruling

An Ontario judge in Waterloo has ruled that people without access to indoor housing have a right to a place in encampment.  The ruling appears to suggest that housing is a human right and that the lack of housing bestows a right as well and the practice of police disrupting the residents of an encampment may bring many municipalities to conflict with the ruling, especially Toronto.  “Estair Van Wagner, an associate professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, says Toronto is “extremely vulnerable” to a legal challenge in light of that decision.”   Related article: CBC News – James Chaarani     Court ruling blocking Kitchener, Ont., encampment eviction could affect cases across Canada, say legal experts (

Canadian Press News
Drug decriminalization to begin in B.C.

“The possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit drugs will be decriminalized in British Columbia in an effort to prevent deaths from toxic overdose. The federal minister mental health and addictions, Carolyn Bennett, says the provincial exemption from Canada’s drug laws represents a “monumental shift” in drug policy.”  Drug decriminalization to begin in B.C. | |   Related article:  Global News – Amy Judd & Kristen Robinson     B.C.’s 3-year experiment with drug decriminalization starts Tuesday   Related article: Global News (BC) – First step or misstep? Mixed reaction to B.C. drug decriminalization  Related article: Global News – Camille Bains   Five things to know about B.C.’s decriminalization model    Global News:  Why is B.C. decriminalizing people who possess illegal drugs? The province says it aims to reduce stigma around drug use, so people reach out for help to get services like counselling and treatment in the midst of the crisis that has claimed over 11,000 lives since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016.   Related article: Global News – Kathy Michaels   2,300 British Columbians died from toxic drug supply in 2022

CBC News (K-W) – Carmen Groleau
National shortage of volunteers is hitting non-profits in Waterloo region – Carizon and Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Waterloo Region re-think offerings

As the nation struggles with shortages of labour of all kinds but particularly those in social service – nurses, day care and long term care – workers are likely going to feel the brunt of a key assist from volunteers as well, for much the same reasons.  “According to numbers recently shared by Volunteer Canada, as of November 2022 up to 65 per cent of organizations in the country are struggling due to a volunteer shortage, with up to 35 per cent of them having to reduce or cancel services as a result.”

 Tweet from Tom Engel On Black officers:   “To see Black officers embracing brutality & aligning themselves with a police subculture that calls for loyalty to even the most heinous of police behaviors — such as beating subjects who run from the police — is beyond devastating…”
Also known…”

 Tweet from The Sentencing Project (US) on Media influences:   “Crime coverage has played an integral role in the buildup of mass incarceration & its racial disparities.  Our media guide can help develop coverage that better informs the public & policymakers on how to pursue effective and humane public safety policies.”

Alec Karakatsanis on How the Media Enables Violent Bureaucracy: Part 2 

“This media framing of well-meaning institutions trying to support safety and democracy that will be effective with just a little more cash thus plays a role in manufacturing consent among readers for very particular policy responses. If the problem is diagnosed as a “lack of training” then the logical solution is more training.  If the problem is a lack of “preparation” or “coordination,” then the logical solutions are to invest in the personnel, costly consultants, and IT/personnel systems that would help police “prepare” better (whatever that means) or the communications technology/platforms that would help police “coordinate” better.  If the problem is understood as a lack of “intelligence” or a lack of computers, handcuffs, or buses for mass arrests, the logical solution is to invest more in those things.  This focus on “intelligence” failures is how, for example, police departments parlayed prior failures into more money for spying on people. And so on.”

Blogger Russell Webster (UK) – 48 people a year die in the first 2 weeks after prison release – Ombudsman publishes first investigations into people dying in the first 2 weeks after prison release 

Amesty International Canada has a new podcast with Daniella Barreto beginning Feb 1.  Access the subscription at: