Ontario's Ombudsman calls for end to indefinite segregation (Ottawa Citizen)

Ontario's Ombudsman calls for end to indefinite segregation (Ottawa Citizen)

May 10, 2016

10 May 2016

Ontario’s ombudsman is calling on the province to permanently abolish the practice of locking up inmates in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time.

Andrew Seymour
Ottawa Citizen
May 10, 2016

Ontario’s ombudsman is calling on the province to permanently abolish the practice of locking up inmates in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time.

“This office has repeatedly sounded the alarm about how harmful segregation can be and how overused it is,” said ombudsman Paul Dubé Tuesday after publicly releasing his 28 recommendations regarding solitary confinement.

Those recommendations include changing the law so that no inmate spends more than 15 consecutive days in solitary confinement or 60 days in solitary confinement in a year.

Dubé also called on the province to put in place “robust” safeguards for anyone who is put in segregation, including an independent panel made up of people from outside the correctional system to review segregation placements and having a mental health provider check on segregated inmates every 24 hours.

The use of isolation “should be abolished because of the adverse effect it has on inmates, who are human beings,” said Dubé.

“Quite often what we find it is being used to manage some of the most vulnerable individuals, some of the ones who suffer from mental health or developmental disabilities,” he said. “Really there should be a more humane way of dealing with people who present those kinds of challenges and have those kinds of needs.”

Dubé presented his recommendations to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on April 27 as part of the ministry’s ongoing consultations surrounding solitary confinement.

His report comes as public scrutiny of Ontario’s use of segregation intensifies.

Dubé’s report cited stories from the Citizen about an inmate at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre who was found mentally unfit to stand trial after spending 18 months in segregation and another about an inmate who hanged himself in a solitary confinement cell last month.

Dubé’s office also investigated a complaint from one inmate at another jail who had spent three years in solitary. Dubé found some inmates were denied privileges other inmates would receive such as yard time, programming or medical care.

He also criticized the ministry for failing to properly follow the current policies and procedures intended to monitor and protect inmates who are locked up alone for 22 hours or more a day, sometimes for months or years at a time.

The ombudsman said segregation is used to “separate out and punish” the most vulnerable offenders. Prolonged segregation can exacerbate existing mental health issues in sick inmates or create new ones in inmates who are placed in solitary.

“Just locking them up in isolation is not addressing the problem, it’s going to perpetuate the problem. Get to the root cause of this, provide them with the treatment and the care that they need, so you don’t need to deal with these problems,” said Dubé

Ontario’s long-term plan should be to develop housing and programs for vulnerable inmates with developmental, behavioural and mental health challenges who frequently end up in solitary confinement, Dubé said.

Corrections minister Yasir Naqvi said the ministry shares Dube’s view about the negative impacts of segregation.

“That’s why a key part of our review is examining and reviewing hard limits on the use of segregation in Ontario’s jails,” he said in a statement.

Denis Collin, a correctional officer and president of the OPSEU local representing staff at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, said there is a reliance on using segregation in Ontario jails.

“Correctional officers don’t know anything different. If the ministry is going to do something like that, it is a major generational change. It’s a culture change. They are going to have to decide what they are going to do without it,” said Collin.

Collin said new segregation areas were created in Ottawa to meet the demand, and welcomed recommendations about finding alternative living arrangements and treatment for the mentally ill.

“We are overwhelmed with the mentally ill in our segregations,” said Collin.

The Ministry does not routinely record the number of inmates in segregation, according to Dubé. However, it recently compiled data revealing that the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and the Central East Correctional Centre had 1,677 segregation admissions in just a five-month period last year.

Dubé’s office has received 557 complaints related to segregation in the past three years from inmates in provincial jails. The number of complaints in Ottawa has risen from 20 three years ago to 27 in the last fiscal year.

The United Nations has declared that placing inmates in segregation for longer than 15 days is a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Others who have made similar recommendations include the inquest into the death of federal inmate Ashley Smith, federal Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, and Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane, Dubé said.