'Unreasonable, wrong, oppressive': Segregation tracking system a failure, ombudsman reports (Ottawa

'Unreasonable, wrong, oppressive': Segregation tracking system a failure, ombudsman reports (Ottawa Citizen)

April 20, 2017

20 April, 2017

An Ottawa jail inmate with apparent mental health issues and a diminished cognitive ability that made it difficult for him to carry on a conversation spent more than a year in segregation, an investigation by the province’s ombudsman found.

Andrew Seymour
Ottawa Citizen
April 20, 2017

An Ottawa jail inmate with apparent mental health issues and a diminished cognitive ability that made it difficult for him to carry on a conversation spent more than a year in segregation, an investigation by the province’s ombudsman found.

The Ottawa inmate’s case was among several troubling examples of the province’s failure to properly track inmates placed in isolation. 

In a scathing report released Thursday, Ontario ombudsman Paul Dubé said the province’s “inadequate and ineffective” tracking and review of segregation placements in provincial jails was, in his opinion, “unreasonable, wrong, oppressive, and contrary to law under the Ombudsman Act.”

Dubé said he found numerous examples where correctional facilities failed to accurately track how long inmates had been kept in segregation in the new report, titled Out of Oversight, Out of Mind. Dubé said the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ struggles to accurately track segregation placements were compounded by confusion and disagreement on what segregation actually meant, while human error and insufficient procedures also led to incomplete and inconsistent records.

As one ministry official told the ombudsman’s office: “We probably tracked livestock better than we do human beings.”

Dubé’s investigation found that many inmates are not only held in segregation much longer than 15 days – which the United Nations considers to be “cruel, inhuman and degrading” – but that many such placements are not properly tracked or reviewed.

As a result, the ministry could not produce reliable statistics on segregation placements, much less verify that every one was justified, he found – an issue that he said he first brought to their attention four years ago.

Among the worst examples Dubé said he found was “Keith,” an Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre inmate who was listed as having five different start dates to his segregation placement, according to ministry records.

The earliest start date listed was Oct. 28, 2015, However, Dubé also found ministry documentation alternately listed his start date in segregation as being Oct. 30, 2015, Nov. 1, 2015, Feb. 19, 2016 and finally June 23, 2016 – nearly eight months after the first date he was actually put in segregation.

According to the ministry, Keith initially requested to be placed in segregation because he had an injured shoulder and he feared for his life due to “gang affiliations,” the ombudsman’s report said. While he had no diagnosed mental illness, correctional staff noted in his record that he had “apparent mental health issues” and “presented as having diminished cognitive ability and found it difficult to answer any questions or carry on a conversation.”

Dubé said the ministry’s own review found that Keith’s segregation cell was “extremely dirty and dark” as of November 2016, although this concern was subsequently addressed. According to Dubé’s report, it wasn’t until Jan. 9, 2017, that Keith was moved out of segregation to the jail’s newly created “step-down” unit. Step-down units are intended to house inmates who require higher levels of supervision and support than what is offered in the general population with the ultimate goal of having the inmates “step down” and safely return to a regular living unit, the report said.

The stated reasons for Keith’s segregation placements varied: some were labelled “segregation,” others “protective custody,” one very short placement (lasting less than an hour) was called “general population,” and one eight-day placement was called “secure isolation.” Despite the varying terminology, most of these placements were clearly segregation, Dubé found.

Segregation must be clearly defined, strictly limited, rigorously tracked and publicly reported, according to the report’s 32 recommendations.

Dubé’s investigation came after details emerged about the four-year segregation of Adam Capay at the Thunder Bay Jail in October 2016. Capay was held alone in a Plexiglass-fronted cell where the lights were kept on for 24 hours a day.

Dubé said on any given day, about 560 of some 8,000 inmates in Ontario’s correctional facilities are segregated for 22 hours per day or more. Many are on “remand,” meaning they are facing criminal charges but have not been convicted, he said.