Ontario must limit use of solitary confinement

Posted on May 9, 2017 in Child & Family Policy Context

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Howard Sapers’ disturbing report on the overuse of segregation in Ontario prisons is a wake-up call the government must act on.
May 8, 2017.   By

For too long the Ontario government has been guilty of willfully ignoring the shameful overuse of solitary confinement in its 26 prisons.

If there was any doubt of that, it is put to rest by a telling fact in a damning new report by respected former federal prisons watchdog Howard Sapers. He found, astonishingly, that while Ontario’s prison population dropped by 11 per cent over the last 10 years, the number of inmates held in segregation actually went up by 24 per cent.

Disturbingly, he also found the share of segregation cells occupied by prisoners with mental health issues increased from 32 per cent to 45 per cent between 2015 and 2016 alone.

The good news resulting from his distressing report is that it seems at last to have prodded the Wynne government into much-needed action. Corrections Minister Marie-France Lalonde promised not only to address all 63 sensible recommendations made by Sapers, but committed to enshrining many of them into legislation planned for the fall.

That commitment is especially important. Until now it has been too easy for officials and politicians to ignore guidelines aimed at limiting the use of segregation to the point that they have literally lost track of prisoners.

As Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé detailed in a report on solitary confinement last month, the paperwork on one prisoner, Adam Capay, suggested he had been in solitary confinement for 50 days when he had actually been there for four years.

Capay was far from alone in his misery. Despite the fact the United Nations defines solitary confinement beyond 15 days as torture, Sapers found that 1,300 people spent 60 or more days in sterile six- by nine-foot segregation cells last year. That included five people who had been isolated for more than three years.

This should be considered unacceptable treatment for any prisoner. It’s even more alarming considering that 70 per cent of the 575 inmates in solitary on any given day have not even been convicted of a crime.

Last week, Lalonde promised that “the time to talk is over, the time to act is now.” The test of her commitment to that promise will be in the details of the legislation she vows to introduce this fall.

Implementing the recommendations from Sapers and Dubé will require an investment in staff and facilities. But that should not stop the government from doing the right thing, including establishing a 15-day limit on continuous segregation. The aim should be to ensure that prisoners leave jail rehabilitated, not broken.


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