Inmates Still Missing Access to Staff and Programs in Jail

The problems have been going on for so long inmates are starting to get used to it like it’s completely normal. No access to parole officers in jail, no access to rehabilitative programming. No opportunity to put together a meaningful plan for early release and no resources being provided to support that plan. Just warehousing, and lockdowns, and waiting to be shoved out front door of the jail once the system runs out of time to pretend it’s going to do anything else.

I’m a parole lawyer. I help my clients put together the best plans, make the best preparations, and take the best shots at getting parole. But inmates aren’t supposed to need a parole lawyer. I strongly believe what I do has great value. I also believe that inmates need and deserve access to the basic services and support that everyone is supposed to receive in custody. And they really, really aren’t getting that. I’m less concerned for my own clients because my office can help fill those gaps and mitigate the damage. It’s the ones with no lawyer to fall back on that I’m most worried about.

There’s no solution to this. The problem is fully acknowledged and no one is even pretending to hide it. Parole officers freely admit they are rarely showing up to the jails, cannot meet even their minimum obligations, and cannot fulfill their mandate. Just like everything else right now, that’s just the way things are. The one saving grace is that Parole Boards at least know and understand this also. The Ontario Parole Board and the Parole Board of Canada have both acknowledged that inmates aren’t receiving any access to programs or support. If an applicant can be released safely to any kind of a plan, that tends to weigh in their favor. But if they cannot be released safely, in the opinion of the Board, it doesn’t matter at all that it’s someone else’s fault they haven’t had access to any support or treatment to help them become safe. They still stay in jail. So the onus is really on the inmate to make the case and put together the plan, often without institutional supports of any kind.

There’s no grand conclusion to this. Except to say I and many of my colleagues are ready to help anyone we can. Many lawyers, including myself, will even do it on Legal Aid, and many inmates would qualify for that. I’ll generally hand those cases off to my associate and we are limited in what we can do on Legal Aid, but it’s one heck of a lot better than the nothing that inmates are getting otherwise. Don’t let the system beat down your hopes until you give up on early release entirely. It’s still very much a possibility. You just have to get there on your own, or find a lawyer to help you push through to it.

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