Ontario Ombudsman has had more than 500 complaints about use of solitary confinement (The London Fre

Ontario Ombudsman has had more than 500 complaints about use of solitary confinement (The London Free Press)

December 2, 2016

2 December, 2016

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube is adding his voice to the growing questions about segregation in the province’s jails, launching a probe into the controversial practice.

Randy Richmond
The London Free Press December 2, 2016

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube is adding his voice to the growing questions about segregation in the province’s jails, launching a probe into the controversial practice.

The probe comes amid several high-­profile cases and heightened attention to the problem, including a recent Free Press investigation and coroner’s inquest into the death of Jamie High, a St. Thomas realtor, at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) in London.

The ombudsman’s office noted its probe is based on more than 500 complaints it has received about segregation the last three years.

The investigation will focus on how the province tracks the admission and continued placement of inmates in segregation, and how it reviews those placements.

“The Ombudsman has the power and discretion to pursue serious related issues as the evidence warrants,” spokesperson Linda Williamson said Friday.

The issue of segregation — solitary confinement in a small cell — touches on several problems inside correctional facilities, especially the lack of space and resources to treat mentally ill and suicidal inmates.

The lawyer for High’s family welcomed the investigation, but expressed hope for a wide-ranging examination of the practice.

“We have to look at who’s in there, why are they are in there, how long are they being placed in there, if they’re in there for medical reasons are they getting any medical care at all, or is it just a warehousing for physical and mental illness?” said Lisa Gunn, a St. Thomas defence lawyer.

“And we have to look at the detrimental effects of segregation on inmates who either don’t make it out because they are dead, or come out and have long-term damage,” she said.

High was a 40-year-old struggling with mental illness and addiction when placed in a segregation cell in EMDC Dec. 21, 2014, for breaching a warrant.

His condition deteriorated and he died of delirium due to alcohol withdrawal Dec. 23.

His struggles were highlighted in an eight-part series in The Free Press, called Indiscernible, and in an inquest held in early November, which heard that undertrained and understaffed correctional and health care workers struggle to help mentally ill inmates forced into segregation because there’s nowhere else to put them.

The case of Adam Capay, 24, held alone in a cell in Thunder Bay for four years, has galvanized opposition to the practice.

Ontario’s Liberal government announced last month it appointed federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers to lead a review into the use of segregation, including the possibility of ending the use of indefinite isolation. 

Sapers will become Ontario’s independent adviser on corrections Jan. 1.

The ombudsman says his investigation into segregation was planned before Sapers was appointed by the province, and will “enhance” his work. 

Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti recently announced several changes to Ontario’s policies on segregation, including a plan to lower a 30-day cap on disciplinary segregation to 15 consecutive days.

However, inmates can still be held in administrative segregation indefinitely. That’s the most common form of segregation and used to house mentally ill inmates.


The Numbers:

Segregation complaints to Ontario’s Ombudsman:

  • 185 Received in year ending in March.
  • 175 Received since then.