Position Paper: Bell Canada’s prison policies and practices
POSITION: Bell Canada should amend prison policies and practices
Women’s Wellness Within: An Organization Serving Criminalized Women (WWW) challenges Bell Canada to align its messaging surrounding the company’s annual mental health campaign, “Let’s Talk,” with the restrictions put on federal prisoners’ phone transactions. The restrictions impact prisoners’ mental health by keeping them from being able to contact their support system.
Last fall, WWW raised the alarm that federally incarcerated prisoners at the Nova Institution for Women in Nova Scotia are limited to a single day per month during which they can add credits to their phone cards. If someone arrives at the prison the day after this allotted time, they will not be able to load their card to call their support network (family, kids, boyfriend, mental health professional) for a full month.
Prisoners experiencing the stress of being newly incarcerated, depression, anxiety, or any number of mental health issues, are limited to the support they can access because of this arbitrary restriction. Female prisoners who are pregnant are at a high risk of experiencing depression, as it is the most common complication of pregnancy.
Emotional support from friends and family is a key component to navigating anxiety and depression resulting from imprisonment and separation. Phone access is crucial for prisoners who are planning for their reintegration into the community and for maintaining familial and social bonds. Requiring payment and restricting phone access exacerbates the psychological and emotional harm facing prisoners who have already experienced mental health challenges and neglect.
The Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada has found that most incarcerated women start their imprisonment already experiencing mental illness, and almost half require prescriptions for psychotropic medications. Hundreds of incidents of self-harm are recorded each year. Most prisoners are coping with extraordinary isolation, loneliness, and stigma. For incarcerated women, most of whom are mothers, these forces are even greater.
Despite contacting Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, about the “one day” policy in the fall of 2016, it remains unclear who is responsible for preventing prisoners from communicating and bonding with their families in a meaningful way. Correctional Services of Canada (CSC) says it is Bell’s call.
Bell has a monopoly on prison telephone services and charges high fees of each call. Prisoners make $1.95 a day in their CORCAN jobs. CSC bans most prisoners from Internet use and cell phones are considered contraband.
We believe Bell’s prison policies and practices are unjust and the time is now to make change. We are asking Bell to “Walk the Talk” by making all phone calls free for prisoners, if not everyday, at least on January 31. Second, we ask that Bell and CSC allow prisoners to load their phone cards any and every day of the month.
 Toohey, J. (2012). Depression during pregnancy and postpartum. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 55(3), 788-97. doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e318253b2b4. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22828111)
 Sapers, H. (2016, June 30). Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator 2015-2016. Retrieved from http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/rpt/annrpt/annrpt20152016-eng.aspx
 Devet, R. (2017, November 9). Let’s Talk – Bell Canada makes calling from prisons needlessly difficult for incarcerated women. The Nova Scotia Advocate. Retrieved from https://nsadvocate.org/2017/11/09/lets-talk-bell-canada-makes-calling-from-prisons-needlessly-difficult-for-incarcerated-women/
 Brownell, C. (2017, August 30). Prisoners making $1.95 a day want a raise. Taxpayers want a break. Financial Post. Retrieved from https://business.financialpost.com/news/court-challenge-to-inmate-pay-places-prison-labour-program-in-the-crosshairs