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Ontario segregation system putting inmates at risk: Ombud

The Canadian Press

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun files)

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun files)

TORONTO - 

Vulnerable inmates are being put at risk due to Ontario’s highly flawed system of segregation, the province’s ombudsman said Thursday.

In a hard-hitting report, Paul Dube says no one is properly tracking how long inmates are kept in solitary, so many of them are spending inordinate amounts of time in isolation.

“It is important to remember that solitary confinement — locking someone up and depriving them of all human contact for 22 hours a day or more — is a severe form of punishment,” Dube said. “(It) can have grave and lasting effects on a person’s mental state.”

Dube notes that isolation is supposed to be a rare measure of last resort that needs to be justified in each and every case.

Part of the problem, his investigation found, is that the provincial definition of segregation is fuzzy, so it’s not always clear when someone is placed in it.

Another problem is the way the Correctional Services Ministry tracks such detentions. Their data is so poor, he said, they can’t be sure who is in solitary confinement or how long they have been there.

Officials also fail to carry out mandated periodic reviews of an inmate’s segregation status, the report finds.

In one notorious case, that of Adam Capay, ministry records showed he had been in isolation for 50 days. In fact, he had been in segregation for 1,591 days.

“Adam’s case, while extreme, is not unique,” Dube said. “The ministry has been aware of these problems for years.”

The problem is exacerbated by the frequent transfers of prisoners, which makes tracking even more difficult and oversight at senior levels “often amounts to a rubber stamp,” he said.

The report indicates that many of those placed in solitary are mentally ill or have other cognitive problems and guards don’t know what else to do with them.

The United Nations has condemned housing the mentally ill in isolation in all but the most exceptional cases, the report notes.

Dube’s report makes 32 recommendations aimed at addressing the situation, among them placing strict limits on the use of isolation cells.

He also wants a new definition of segregation defined in law along with a reliable tracking system that alerts front-line managers when status reviews are supposed to happen.

He also wants an independent panel to review all segregation placements and the government to ensure that solitary is only used as a last resort.

The ombudsman also suggests making anonymized data available to the public as a way to increase accountability.

Currently, about 8,000 prisoners are in Ontario’s 26 adult jails. Of those, about 560 are in isolation. Dube said his office has received more than 800 complaints about the practice over the past four years.