Inmates

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.

Indefinite Solitary Confinement Ruled Unconstitutional by B.C. Supreme Court

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously blogged about solitary confinement in Canada and are revisiting this issue given the recent decision from the B.C. Supreme Court striking down sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (“CCRA”) that permit prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement in federal prisons.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In this case, lawyers for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada were asking the Court to end administrative segregation in federal penitentiaries in Canada. The Plaintiffs argued that sections 31, 32, 33 and 37 of the CCRA were unconstitutional as they infringe upon an inmate’s rights and freedoms granted by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”).

The Correctional Service Canada (“CSC”) procedure known as administrative segregation (similar to solitary confinement) authorizes the placement of inmates in small cells for up to 23 hours a day without meaningful human contact. This type of segregation has no legislated time limits and is left to the discretion of the warden.

The B.C. Court ruled that the laws regarding administrative segregation violate section 7 of the Charter guaranteeing life, liberty and security of person. These infringing laws allow indefinite solitary confinement, prevent independent oversight of segregation decisions and deprive inmates from having a lawyer represent them at segregation review hearings.

The Court also ruled that these laws discriminate against mentally ill and Indigenous inmates contrary to section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees equality before and under the law and equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination.

Justice Peter Leask wrote in his decision:

I am satisfied that the law … fails to respond to the actual capacities and needs of mentally ill inmates and instead imposes burdens in a manner that has the effect of reinforcing, perpetuating or exacerbating their disadvantage.

HARMFUL EFFECTS OF SEGREGATION

The B.C. Court heard extensive testimony from former prisoners, researchers and correctional officials who addressed the heath effects of administrative segregation. The Court held that solitary confinement places prisoners at significant risk of serious psychological harm and increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

Justice Leask emphasized that based on the evidence solitary confinement increases destructive symptoms and behaviours, including “anxiety, withdrawal, hypersensitivity, cognitive dysfunction, hallucinations, loss of control, irritability, aggression, rage, paranoia, hopelessness, a sense of impending emotional breakdown, self-mutilation, and suicidal ideation and behaviour.”

The laws pertaining to solitary confinement were found by the Court to be overbroad and damaging to institutional security. Furthermore, the Court held that the laws authorizing solitary confinement do so in circumstances where lesser forms of restriction would achieve the same results.

The Court ruled that a procedure of prisoner segregation must include time limits. Time limits would “create the pressure to ensure that decisions about alleviating an inmate’s segregation were made and implemented promptly, while still allowing CSC to use the practice for short periods to address security concerns.”

International consensus has determined that 15 days is an ideal cap for segregation placements. Justice Leask did not prescribe a set number of days, but considered 15 days “a defensible standard”.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Justice Leask suspended his decision for 12 months to give the government time to draft new legislation, which must include strict limits on the amount of time an inmate can be segregated.

This B.C. decision requires broader legislative changes than the ruling made by the Ontario Superior Court last month, which we previously blogged about. In the Ontario case, the Judge held that the lack of independent review of prisoners placed in solitary confinement means that there is no accountability for the decision to segregate. Justice Marrocco put his decision on hold for a year to allow Parliament to make the legislative changes necessary. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association recently announced it would appeal this Ontario decision.

ORDER STOPPING ONTARIO FROM PLACING MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

One day following this B.C. decision, Ontario announced an agreement between the Ontario government and the Human Rights Commission ensuring that inmates with mental health disabilities will no longer be placed in solitary confinement across the province.

This Order includes the process of properly identifying inmates with mental health disabilities (including those at risk of self-harm or suicide) and issuing appropriate alerts verified by professionals. The alert would indicate that alternatives to segregation must be considered for the particular inmate.

We will continue to follow the developments in the law regarding solitary confinement in Canada and will provide updates through this blog.

In the meantime, should you have any questions regarding your legal rights and need to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer please call Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.

Court Finds that Solitary Confinement Laws are Unconstitutional

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously blogged about solitary confinement in Canada and are revisiting this issue given the recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court striking down Canada’s solitary confinement laws as unconstitutional following a three year challenge by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the court case, lawyers for the CCLA requested a declaration that sections 31 to 37 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (“CCRA”), which allow the Correction Service of Canada to remove an inmate from the general population for a non-disciplinary reason, are unconstitutional as they infringe upon the rights granted in sections 7, 11(h) and 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter”).

This application referred specifically to administrative segregation, the purpose of which is to maintain the security of the penitentiary and of all persons within the penitentiary. Under the current legislation, a warden is allowed to order solitary confinement when an inmate is at risk from others or poses a risk to the security of the prison. When this occurs, inmates are ordered to spend 22 hours in a cell without any meaningful human contact. There is no cap on the length of time that segregation occurs in the legislation.

Under the current legislative system, prison wardens are responsible for the initial decision to place an inmate in solitary confinement and are involved in the internal tribunal assembled five days later to study and judge that decision. Justice Marrocco found that this lack of independent review means that there is no accountability for the decision to segregate.

CURRENT SEGREGATION PROCESS IS “PROCEDURALLY UNFAIR AND CONTRARY TO THE PRINCIPLES OF FUNDAMENTAL JUSTICE”

Justice Marrocco ruled that this arbitrary and potentially biased system is improper given the severe deprivation of liberty and security of the person that takes place when an inmate is segregated. These are two rights guaranteed under section 7 of the Charter.

Justice Marrocco wrote:

I am satisfied that the statutory review of the decision to segregate is procedurally unfair and contrary to the principles of fundamental justice because the procedure chosen provides that the Institutional Head is the final decision maker for admission, maintenance and release from administrative segregation and is the final institutional decision-maker of required reviews and hearings which occur immediately after an inmate is segregated.

However, Marrocco stated that banning the practice immediately could be disruptive and dangerous. Therefore, Justice Marrocco put his declaration on hold for a year, which he felt was a reasonable time frame to allow Parliament to address the situation.

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS BY JUSTICE MARROCCO

The CCLA argued for a 15-day limit on solitary confinements, a prohibition on the isolation of mentally ill inmates, and, a rule barring prisoners aged 18 to 21 from solitary lockups.

Regarding the effect of solitary confinement, Justice Marrocco agreed with CCLA and wrote that “placing an inmate in administrative segregation imposes a psychological stress, quite capable of producing serious permanent observable negative mental health effects”. He, however, did not find that solitary confinement itself to be unconstitutional, even when applied to inmates aged 18 to 21 or the mentally ill. He rejected any argument that this practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Marrocco also refused to declare placement in solitary confinement for more than 15 days to be unconstitutional.

The CCLA launched this constitutional application shortly after the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCLA) and the John Howard Society of Canada filed a similar, but unrelated, lawsuit in Vancouver. A ruling in the B.C. case is expected within the next three months.

We will continue to follow the developments in the law with regards to solitary confinement in Canada and will provide updates through this blog.

In the meantime, should you have any questions regarding your legal rights and need to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer please call Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We are here to help you 24/7.