Ontario Ombudsman Calls for New Laws and Strong Oversight of Inmate Segregation 

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As we addressed in a previous blog, the Ontario Ombudsman has been investigating the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities across the province.

This week, the Ombudsman released a 72-page report calling on Ontario to reform its “flawed” system of placing and tracking inmates in solitary confinement. The investigation revealed a number of issues that place vulnerable people at risk.

The Report

The Ombudsman launched his investigation after the treatment of Adam Capay, a 24-year old who had been held in solitary confinement in the Thunder Bay Jail for more than 4 years, made headlines.  Capay had been detained, alone, in a plexiglass cell in a basement where lights were on for 24 hours a day, making it impossible for him to know whether it was night time or day time. While Capay was held in segregation for more than 1,500 days, data from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services incorrectly stated that he had been segregated for only 50 days.

The Ombudsman noted, about Capay’s treatment, that the young man had been “…out of sight and out of mind”. The report, entitled Out of Oversight, Out of Mind identified a number of serious issues with the solitary confinement system, including how the province defines inmate segregation and the overuse of segregation as a form of inmate punishment.

The report recommends that inmates be held in solitary for no more than 15 days, and only once all other options have been exhausted.

The Ombudsman told CBC News that:

“Solitary confinement is supposed to be an absolute last resort and that’s not what is happening”

The Ombudsman’s Office has received more than 800 complaints about solitary confinement over the last four years.

The Investigation

Over the course of the Ombudsman’s investigation, 10 000 documents were reviewed, 36 interviews were undertaken, and 4 facilities were visited. The investigation’s findings were shared with Howard Sapers, the former Correctional Investigator of Canada, who is responsible for leading a separate review of inmate segregation.

Unfortunately, neither the Ombudsman’s Office nor the province has been able to obtain accurate statistics on segregation. The Ombudsman says that this is due to the fact that Ontario has never clearly or universally defined segregation, and that the methods of tracking solitary confinement (i.e.- measuring how long an inmate spends alone) vary from facility to facility.

The report made 32 recommendations. Specific recommendations for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services state that the Ministry should:

  • Within the next six months, establish a new definition of “segregation” in relevant legislation, to be applied to all inmates in segregation-like conditions. The definition should be in accordance with international standards;
  • Consult with and train correctional staff on the new definition, and provide adequate tools and resources in order to track placements accurately;
  • Placements should include “continuous” segregation when inmates are transferred between units and institutions;
  • Ensure that the placement tracking system alerts front-line managers when required reviews for inmates should take place (i.e.- every 5 and 30 days, and after 60 days in one year);
  • Create an independent panel to review all segregation placements, and place responsibility on the Ministry to show that each placement is justified;
  • Ensure that segregation is only used as a last resort in every instance;
  • Publicize anonymized segregation data
  • Collect and analyze statistics on the use of segregation, including information about the race, gender, mental health status, and other data about inmates;
  • Report results to the public on an annual basis;
  • Report back to the Ombudsman every six months.

The Ministry has accepted most of the recommendations made in the Report and has stated that it will explore others as part of its ongoing efforts to reform the province’s corrections system.  The province has agreed to provide the Ombudsman’s Office with regular progress reports.

We will continue to follow developments in this matter and blog about updates as they become available.

At Affleck & Barrison our firm and its predecessors have been representing clients charged with criminal offences and protecting those clients’ rights since 1992.  Our lawyers are extremely knowledgeable and are experienced at defending a wide range of charges.  Call us at 905-404-1947 or contact us online for a free consultation. We offer 24-hour phone service for your convenience, and a variety of payment options, including Legal Aid. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help.