Top News

Prisoners deserve phone break: women’s group

Martha Paynter, Women’s Wellness Within chairwoman, says restrictions on telephone transactions available to prisoners need to be addressed.
ANDREW VAUGHAN • CP
Martha Paynter, Women’s Wellness Within chairwoman, says restrictions on telephone transactions available to prisoners need to be addressed. ANDREW VAUGHAN • CP - The Chronicle Herald

The Women’s Wellness Within group suspects Bell of too much talk and not enough action.

The non-profit organization would like to talk about restrictions on the telephone transactions available to prisoners at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro and what role Bell might play in those restrictions.

“Communication is an essential form of support,” said chairwoman Martha Paynter. “It is unimaginable for you and I to think how we would cope without calling the people we love. It is pretty basic stuff.”

Last fall, the group raised the alarm that Nova inmates are limited to a single day per month during which they can add credits to their phone cards.

“This means that if you arrive at the prison the day after this specific day, you will not be able to load your card to call your support network — family, boyfriend, mom, kids — for a full month,” Paynter said in a release. “Now imagine if you are pregnant, or depressed, or pregnant and depressed. Depression is the most common complication of pregnancy.”

Paynter said the WWW contacted Ralph Goodale,the federal minister of public safety, last fall to find out who is responsible but “his response made it unclear.”

Goodale referred to this as Bell’s prerogative but didn’t really answer the question, Paynter said. His letter said that Bell is responsible for phone service at the Truro facility and other prisons But a Bell Aliant representative said in an email reply Monday that the telecommunications company is not responsible., “Bell has no role in setting federal correctional facility policies regarding access to telecommunications, including when credits can be added to phone cards,” said Isabelle Boulet. “Collect calling is always available.”

The Correctional Service Canada website says National Headquarters are responsible for the installation and maintenance of a national inmate telephone system and that telephone access should be provided “on a fair and consistent basis, to help maintain family and community ties and to provide a direct link with families in the event of an emergency.”

Paynter said the issue is extremely timely in light of Bell’s annual Let’s Talk about mental illness program. Wednesday is the day Bell sets aside to talk.

“The Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada has found that most incarcerated women start their imprisonment already experiencing mental illness, and almost half have prescriptions for psychotropic medications,” Paynter said. “Hundreds of incidents of self-harm are recordedeach year. Most prisoners are coping with extraordinary isolation, loneliness and stigma. For incarcerated women, most of whom are mothers, these forces are greater.”

She said Bell has a monopoly on prison telephone service and that the company charges high fees to place a call from prison. Paynter said prisoners make $1.95 a day from their CSC jobs and that most prisoners are banned from internet and cellphone use.

“Phone access is crucial for prisoners who are planning for their reintegration into the community and maintaining familial and social bonds,” Paynter said.

The WWW chairwoman is calling on Bell to make all phone calls free for prisoners, if not every day at least on Jan. 31, and to allow prisoners to load their phone cards any and every day of the month.

Recent Stories