Canada's bail system is in crisis. Bail beds can help.

Canada's bail system is in crisis. The proportion of people in pre-trial detention is at a record level. In 2014, we reported that 54.5% of all people in Canada's provincial and territorial jails were legally innocent, awaiting the determination of their bail or the resolution of their charges rather than serving a sentence after a conviction. By 2021/22, that proportion had risen to a staggering 70%. In Ontario jails, it is 79%.

Conditions in pre-trial custody are dangerous and inhumane. And they only worsened through the pandemic. There are issues with overcrowding, and recreation, treatment and rehabilitation programs are limited or non-existent. In Ontario, for instance, prisoners are often subjected to lockdown due to staff shortages. During lockdowns, prisoners are confined to their cells for the entire day, with little or no access to basic necessities like fresh air, exercise, clean clothes and towels, showers, and telephone calls to loved ones. People are under tremendous pressure to plead guilty to escape these harsh conditions as soon as possible. This often forces innocent people to plead guilty.

This is an unfair system, and it needs to be addressed urgently. One solution that will help to move us in the right direction is making "bail bed" programs more widely available and accessible. A key recommendation from our latest report on bail in 2024 is that, in partnership with social service providers, we must create and adequately fund bail beds – housing options for individuals who could be released on bail but who require housing and supportive services. Bail bed programs are a "win-win" in that they keep the accused out of the detention system while allowing for adequate supports in the community to ensure reasonable bail conditions are met. These programs relieve pressure on an overburdened detention system, uphold the Charter right to reasonable bail, and, at the same time, protect community safety.

Yet, as priorities change for provincial and territorial governments, we have seen a move away from these types of programs, and as a result, they remain limited and underfunded. That is why we hope you will join us and sign our petition calling for better funding for bail bed programs by provincial and territorial governments, which will help a bail system in crisis while also protecting community safety.
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