Court Operations

New Report Provides Concerning Depiction of Ontario’s Jails

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Bonnie Lysyk (“Lysyk”), Ontario’s Auditor General, has recently released a report examining the province’s adult correctional system.  This is the first review of its kind in more than a decade.

The report is entitled “Annual Report 2019:  Reports on Correctional Services and Court Operations”.  The report focused on adult correctional institutions, court operations and the criminal court system, and family court services.

Ontario spends approximately $820 million a year to keep people in jail.  It costs over $300 a day to keep an inmate in jail.  The cost of incarceration has increased almost 90% over the last ten years.  Despite these excessive figures, Lysyk has revealed a disturbing picture of the reality of the correctional system in Ontario.

THE AUDITOR GENEREAL’S FINDINGS REGARDING ONTARIO JAILS

According to the report, overcrowding is a major problem in Ontario’s correctional facilities.  The research suggests that 16 out of 25 of the province’s correctional institutions have increased capacity by 81% in comparison to the capacity that they were intended for. 

During an interview on CBC Radio, Lysyk advised:

In some places, they’ve added two beds to a cell [designed for one person].  We’ve seen in terms of Sudbury, there’s four beds to a cell.  That type of living condition also [contributes] to anxiety.

In terms of mental illness, Lysyk describes this issue as a “huge concern”.  It was found that 33% of Ontario inmates had been diagnosed or suspected of suffering from a mental illness.  This number has increased from previous years.  Contributing to the concern is that correctional officers did not receive sufficient or continuing mental health training to cope with these inmates. 

The Auditor General’s report discloses that correctional officers are feeling the affects and pressures of dealing with inmates that suffer from mental illness and it is manifesting itself in anxiety.  This is resulting in more correctional officers taking additional sick leaves.   According to Lysyk:

And the correctional institutions don’t have sufficient help from nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, which puts the correctional officers in a difficult situation, because they’re having to deal with these inmates and don’t have the training to help, as well.

A review of the correctional system uncovered that a backlog of cases in the courts is contributing to the overcrowding in the correctional institutions.  It was revealed that 71% of inmates were on remand (those who are held in custody awaiting a future court appearance) or had not yet been convicted.  Lysyk found this statistic to be “disturbing”.  It has been suggested that these numbers are as result of the cuts to legal aid.  Many of these inmates do not have a lawyer or are waiting for their legal aid application to be processed.  Some critics of the justice system suggest that there is a dependence by Ontario judges on incarceration rather than bail.  Furthermore, cases are taking longer to be completed.

OTHER FINDINGS BY THE AUDITOR GENERAL

Lysyk also examined the province’s court operations.  According to her findings, there is a backlog of criminal cases and courtrooms are only operating an average of 2.8 hours per day.  This hourly operation is below the targeted average of 4.5 hours per day. 

It was also revealed that the number of criminal cases waiting to be resolved had increased by 27% (approximately 114,000 cases) and the average number of days needed to complete a court case had increased by 9%.

Lysyk found that as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 ruling that criminal cases must be tried within a tight timeline, 191 cases in Ontario had been stayed in the past 3 years.  Lysyk’s office commented:

These cases … denied justice to victims and may have had a significant impact on public confidence in the justice system.

Another important finding was that Ontario’s court system is heavily reliant on paper.  It was disclosed that paper made up more than 96% of the 2.5 million documents filed in 2018-2019.  Lysyk found that the paper-based courts were leading to more delays.  This paper-based system also proved to be a roadblock during her investigation.  Lysyk also commented that her office had difficulty getting certain information from the chief justices and the staff at the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Lysyk wrote in her report:

A main takeaway from the access-to-information issues we experienced was that Ontario’s court operations need to be more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund it.  Transparency, accountability and effectiveness are also significantly hindered by the fact that the overall pace of court system modernization in Ontario remains slow.

We will continue to follow any developments or changes to Ontario’s correctional institutions or court services in reaction to the Auditor General’s 2019 report and will provide updates in this blog.

If you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.