Bail boondoggle cured?

ONLY MAYBE.

Toronto City Council recently proposed a series of reforms to the city’s police service that have a significant similarity to reforms suggested by the U.S. Senate for American policing. They are both sops, which according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, are things of little importance or value that are offered to stop complaints or unhappiness. The same ineffective scenarios should be anticipated elsewhere at all levels of government in North America.

Politicians are elected to serve their constituent’s best interests, to have their backs. And yet, there is no appetite in North American municipal, provincial/state, or federal governments to confront head-on what brought so many people onto the streets to protest policing and its impenetrable blue wall.

What can be expected over time with what’s on the table now? The goal of law enforcement, under the auspices of police unions and with government indulgence, is to create a perception of change and reform, to vilify within police ranks the proliferation of cameras, and develop strategies to avoid being filmed. Business as usual. As Toronto human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan claims, “You create a lot of supply through policing. You overpolice communities – Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, impoverished folks, folks living with mental health challenges – and so you create a massive supply of folks that would need to then be incarcerated.”

About 70% of men and women in our provincial jails are in custody on remand. They are technically innocent and yet have lost their liberty. According to a recent Globe and Mail editorial, many of these people have been charged with violating bail conditions, itself subject to as much as a two-year sentence. Even a new Supreme Court of Canada ruling calls this country’s bail practices “unfair and harmful”, particularly for the poor, people with addictions and racialized minorities.

This ruling should make for substantial changes to the way bail is granted but there is and will be resistance unless and until the disadvantaged leverage the Court ruling in their favour. “Too often, the Court said, bail court judges have agreed to ‘boilerplate’ conditions that are applied to all defendants, regardless of their circumstances. In some cases, the conditions included unwarranted attempts at behaviour modification that are impossible for the accused person to live up to, such as telling an alcoholic they can’t drink, or ordering a homeless person to stay at a fixed address.”

With this new ruling, bail condition violations may compel a return to custody but without additional charges that simply create a “cycle of incarceration.” As it has been, people can end up serving sentences even if they were never convicted of any of the crimes for which they were initially charged. “The bail system is also partly to blame for overcrowded jails, and it contributes to the slow administration of justice by flooding the courts with unnecessary cases.”

When someone goes to jail for a few days, what happens is that people lose their homes, they lose their place in programs, they lose access to services, and for women in particular, lose access to their children. None of this makes someone’s life better or easier. High rates of recidivism continue, while what is needed are programs that divert people away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate services that get at the root causes of community rot.

It’s not rocket science, so what’s the hold-up? More later…..

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