Jail Lockdowns Lead to Reduced Sentences

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
person walking down hallway of abandoned building

In recent months, in at least five separate decisions, judges in Ontario have awarded reduced sentences to offenders based on numerous lockdowns that have plagued Ontario jails over the last two years. The labour-related lockdowns have left hundreds of prisoners confined to their cells up to 24 hours a day with minimal opportunity for fresh air or showers, and cancelled visits from family and lawyers.

At the Toronto South Detention Centre, Ontario’s new super-jail, there were 162 full or partial labour-related lockdowns between December 2014 and November 2015.

As a result of the former Conservative government‘s tough-on-crime agenda, numerous changes were made to the criminal law including the passing of the Truth in Sentencing Act. The Act, which came into effect on February 22, 2010, served to reduce the discretion of judges to give offenders credit for their time served in pre-trial custody. It was a reaction to the perception that judges were being too lenient on offenders who spent time in pre-sentence custody. Until then many judges frequently granted two-for-one credit, the rational being that pre-sentence incarceration is typically served in harsher circumstances and without access to educational, rehabilitative or vocational programs. The Truth in Sentencing Act eliminated the two-for-one credit, replacing it with one-for-one credit. Under exceptional circumstances, that could be raised to 1.5 days’ credit for each day served. Since then, judges have routinely granted 1.5 days’ credit – a practice validated by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014.

The recent decisions all cite the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v Summers, [2014] 1 SCR 575, in finding that sentence reductions in excess of the 1.5 to 1 ratio are permissible where there is proof of “state misconduct”.

It seems likely that similar decisions will continue to appear, as crowns are not objecting and Ontario correctional officials have been open about the conditions in their institutions. According to the province, additional staff is being hired and trained in an effort to transform the appalling status quo in Ontario jails and prisons.

If you would like to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.

To read the full decision in R v Summers, click here.