New report calls for changes to Ontario’s bail system

A new report released by the John Howard Society is raising concerns about Ontario’s bail system.

Researchers from the John Howard Society looked at 337 case files of clients of the bail verification and supervision program. They found that despite “dramatically declining crime rates,” getting a bail is harder now than it was a decade ago.

Bail court practices in the province are contrary to the presumption of innocence, according to the report. And it notes that when the court grants bail, the conditions are “illogical” and set people up for failure.

Despite rampant substance abuse problems among the clients, 81 per cent of them had a condition not to drink alcohol. “We already criminalize addiction and mental illness, however unintentionally, through legislation prohibiting the possession and trafficking of illicit and controlled substances; adding conditions of bail to completely abstain from the use of alcohol or drugs when one has a known (or suspected) addiction is doubly punishing individuals for what are recognized health concerns,” the report states.

But that’s not the only issue with bail, according to the report, which says two-thirds of prisoners in provincial jails are on remand awaiting a bail hearing or trial.

“Our jails are seriously overcrowded and tensions are escalating,” said Michelle Keast, director of the centre of research, policy, and program development at the John Howard Society.

Keast noted that among those in remand custody, 70 per cent are people are facing non-violent charges.

“But we can do something to alleviate this dangerous situation right now,” Keast added. “As our report demonstrates, we can reduce costs to taxpayers and reduce tensions in our correctional facilities without any increased risk to our communities.”

The report recommends presumptive release of accused individuals with less onerous conditions that it says will result in significantly improved efficiency.

“The shift in focus we are recommending requires that [the Ministry of the Attorney General] reconsider referring clients for bail supervision who should be considered for release onto their own recognizance, regardless of the availability of a surety,” the report states.

“Moving away from the automatic request for a surety would also result in significant improvements in court efficiency: many unproductive court appearances are the result of matters being put over by defence or duty counsel in an effort to find a suitable surety.”

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