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End to indefinite segregation - but not elimination - urged for Ontario jails

The Canadian Press

Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

TORONTO - 

Ontario’s adviser on corrections reform called Thursday for an end to indefinite segregation in the province’s jails, but stopped short of urging an end to the practice entirely.

Howard Sapers, the former federal correctional investigator, was appointed by Ontario last year and has released a report with 63 recommendations.

The province’s corrections minister responded to the report by saying new legislation would be introduced in the fall that would include a new definition of segregation, and new jails would be built in two cities.

Too many people in segregation should not be there, Sapers said.

“Whether it’s a result of inadequate legislation, poorly crafted policies, lack of staff resources and sufficient training, crumbling infrastructure or simply a lack of space, the result is the same,” he said. “Segregation has become the default response to a diverse range of correctional challenges.”

Last year more than 1,300 people — most of them awaiting trial or bail determination — spent 60 or more days in segregation, including five people who had been isolated for more than three years, Sapers found.

The legal framework around segregation is skeletal and there are no standard definitions, Sapers said. In several Ontario institutions inmates confined to their cells for 22 or more hours a day are not considered to be in segregation if they are not held in a designated segregation area, he said.

Sapers called for an end to indefinite segregation, saying there is currently no cap in law.

“That seems to be to be inappropriate and wrong-minded and it does not reflect that principle of least restrictive measure,” he said.

But segregation cannot be done away with entirely, Sapers said.

“I think in an ideal world we’d be looking for ways to reduce not just incarceration in custody, but we’d be looking for ways to reduce the most austere forms of it,” he said.

“Right now, the reality in corrections is that some form of seclusion or segregation is probably as necessary in a jail or prison as it is in a forensic hospital, so I have not called for the abolition of segregation. But I certainly have called for it to be rare, to be exceptional, and for the standard to be to move people back to least restrictive housing.”

Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde said new legislation will be introduced in the fall that will include a clear definition of segregation — one based on conditions of confinement, not physical location within a facility.

She also announced that new jails will be built to replace existing facilities in Ottawa and Thunder Bay that have come under fire in recent years for overcrowding and infrastructure concerns.

A new 725-bed correctional centre will replace the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, which holds 585 inmates. A new 325-bed Thunder Bay facility will replace the Thunder Bay Jail and the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, which have a current combined capacity of 264.

“We know that for us to achieve this transformation our infrastructure must improve,” Lalonde said. “One of the most concrete things we can do to demonstrate our commitment to transformation is to invest in our correctional infrastructure...This investment will increase capacity and reduce overcrowding in those communities.”

In addition, Lalonde said the government will explore how to shift the responsibility for health-care services in correctional facilities to the Ministry of Health.

Sapers said that despite the government revising segregation policies in 2015, including for mentally ill inmates, the proportion of that population in segregation has actually increased.