Ontario ombudsman calls for sweeping changes to inmate segregation

Ontario ombudsman calls for sweeping changes to inmate segregation

Ontario's ombudsman is calling on the province to overhaul the way it regulates and monitors solitary confinement in its correctional facilities, saying the practice has been overused and is putting vulnerable inmates at risk.

In a report released Thursday titled Out of Oversight, Out of Mind, ombudsman Paul Dubé identified "serious problems" with the system, ranging from how the province defines inmate segregation to its overuse as a form of punishment.

"Solitary confinement is supposed to be an absolute last resort and that's not what is happening," Dubé told reporters at Queen's Park.

Dube's office launched the investigation after the case involving 24-year-old inmate Adam Capay made headlines.

It was revealed that Capay had been held in segregation for more than four years at the Thunder Bay Jail. Data from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services incorrectly showed he had been segregated for just 50 days.

"He was out of sight and out of mind," said Dubé, who is recommending that inmates be held in confinement for no longer than 15 days and only when all other options have been exhausted.

'A serious, systemic issue'

The Ombudsman's Office, which has received 827 complaints about segregation over the last four years, interviewed dozens of officials and inmates at four correctional institutions across the province for its report. It has shared its findings with former Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers, who has been tasked by the province to lead a separate review of inmate segregation.

"What [the investigators] found was greatly concerning, and together with a high volume of complaints we had received, confirmed that the use of segregation remained a serious, systemic issue," said Dubé.

However, neither the Ombudsman's Office nor the province has been able to provide accurate statistics on segregation.

Dubé says that's because Ontario has never clearly defined segregation, and the methods of tracking solitary confinement —  exactly how much time an inmate spends alone — vary from prison to prison.

Among its 32 recommendations, the report is calling on Ontario to develop:

- A clear definition of segregation in accordance with international standards.

- A standardized method to track confinement in its facilities.

- An independent panel to review all segregation placements.

Paying for the plan

While the report makes recommendations to improve resources, training and technology, it does not explicitly call for an increase in funding for Ontario correctional facilities.

Michael Lundy, a correctional officer who worked at the Thunder Bay Jail where Adam Capay was held. says not much will change until correctional officers get more help on the job.

"Society's looked at how you treat your most vulnerable, and right now we're not doing a very good job," said Lundy, 

Lundy says officers at overcrowded facilities struggle to meet the complex demands of inmates, especially those with mental health issues.

"Believe me, I'm very thankful for [Dubé's] recommendations, but they have to hire more staff," he added.

While the report does not suggest exactly how segregation should be defined, Lundy says a distinction must be made between segregation for punitive reasons and other forms of the practice.

In his experience, instances of punitive segregation have come with clear timelines and steps for integrating the inmate back into a facility's general population.

Other times, Lundy says, there is no consistent protocol.

"When we put someone in on administrative segregation — for their own protection, for the protection of the institution, for the protection of other inmates, all that stuff — we don't have any clear perspective on how we're supposed to work on getting that person out," he said from his home in Thunder Bay.

Province on board

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has accepted the majority of the recommendations and says it will explore others as part of its efforts at corrections reform.

Ontario has also agreed to provide the Ombudsman's Office with progress reports every six months.

Correction : A previous version of this story stated that Adam Capay died while he was incarcerated at the Thunder Bay Jail. Capay is still alive and his murder charge was stayed after he spent four years in segregation awaiting trial.(Apr 20, 2017 4:28 PM)