New Queen’s Legal Aid bail program reduces overcrowding in Quinte Detention Centre

OISE Open House

Queen’s Law students get practical experience in one-of-a-kind initiative

Jodie-Lee Primeau in her office at Queen's Legal Aid.

Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee, Ontario has the capacity to hold 19 women in its cells. When Jodie-Lee Primeau, Queen’s Legal Aid Review Counsel, first visited the prison, 29 women were being detained there.

The women were “triple-bunked”, meaning in each cell, two women shared a bunk bed, while another women slept on the floor beneath a metal table.

“The prisons across Ontario are overcrowded, and one of the main reasons that’s been identified for that overcrowding is people on remand, or people who haven’t yet secured bail, being held in custody,” Primeau told The Journal on Monday. 

Jodie Primeau is the supervisor of the new bail program initiated by Queen’s Legal Aid in June, the first of its kind in the country, which has the potential to provide relief to many of Ontario’s overcrowded prisons.

According to Primeau, Queen’s law students have visited with women in the Quinte Detention Centre who are presumed innocent but remain in custody pending their trial. 

Many of these women are being held in pre-trial detention because they “don’t even bother with bail because they think there is no chance of release,” Primeau said.

All individuals in the prison have some form of counsel, either duty counsel or a private lawyer who are responsible for developing a bail plan that will be presented at a bail hearing. 

The bail plan essentially explains how a client will ensure good behaviour upon release, and may address things like mental health issues, housing upon release, finding a member of the community to provide support and more.

At a bail hearing, the judge will decide if the plan allows for the release of the individual awaiting trial. However, Primeau says that duty counsel is extremely busy, and private lawyers only get paid the equivalent of one hour’s worth of work for creating bail plans.

This creates problems for many incarcerated individuals.

“If there isn’t a solid enough plan for the clients to get released, they’ll be held in custody,” Primeau said.

Not being granted bail can be detrimental to these individuals, since being outside the prison provides clients a fair opportunity to make the decision whether they want to plead guilty or go to trial. According to Primeau, many inmates will plead guilty, even if they are innocent, if they think going to trial will be a long, grueling process.

Queen’s Law students, she explained, have the time and resources to create bail plans for these clients. There’s also a great demand among students to gain experience in the criminal law system, so the program is beneficial to both parties.

The program has already allowed for the bail release of 11 women in the Quinte Detention Centre, and worked to afford clients more manageable conditions during their bail. 

Oftentimes, bail means individuals are forced to follow extremely restrictive conditions. Many end up breaching, and back in prison facing new charges.

“With the bail program, what we’re trying to do is [create] a holistic plan of release that integrates rehabilitation as a way of preventing reoffending rather than simply restrictive conditions,” Primeau said.

According to her, most lawyers in their first year of work after graduation are responsible for working on bail hearings, and yet law students aren’t allowed to represent clients in bail hearings. Thus, students enter the work force without ever having encountered this system.

“Queen’s is the only law school right now in Canada that has a program where students are involved with the bail system,” she said. As for the future of the program, she said they’ll need more funding to expand.

“Unfortunately, the funding is just not here,” she said. “Right now the Attorney General has a plan for bail reform, and we’re hoping that maybe there’ll be some funding opportunities there.”

While the bail program benefits prisoners, prisons, and law students alike, according to Primeau, it also strengthens the Kingston community as a whole.

“We’re strengthening our community by strengthening the most vulnerable and marginalized members of it.” 

Corrections

A previous version of this article stated the Minister of Justice is planning for bail reform, not the Attorney General.

The Journal regrets the error.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.