Ontario’s correctional system needs overhaul, report says

Posted on October 3, 2017 in Child & Family Policy Context

TheStar.com – News/Queen’s Park – More family visits, better complaints process and improved rules around searches, urges Howard Sapers, the independent adviser on corrections reform.
Oct. 3, 2017.   By

Inmates need a better complaints process, more — and more direct — contact with their families, and prisoners who give birth should not be separated from their babies, says a wide-ranging report on transforming Ontario’s corrections system.

Howard Sapers, the independent adviser on corrections reform, also said the province needs to better track inmate strip searches, as well as any deaths that occur in provincial jails.

“Over 150 people have died in Ontario’s correctional institutions over the past decade,” says Sapers’ report, released at Queen’s Park on Tuesday. “The majority of deaths in custody in Ontario are not subject to a thorough, fully arms-length and independent review. Even where this does take place, the extent to which the findings lead to systemic reflection or change is limited.”

Last November, the then-minister of corrections minister ordered the independent review of Ontario jails.

Sapers is well regarded in corrections circles, after having served as Canada’s correctional investigator and inmate ombudsman for more than a decade. He was tasked with looking at ways to reduce the use of segregation, as well as how to improve the prison system overall.

In the spring, Sapers released an interim report that said solitary confinement should never be used for mentally ill prisoners, those who are pregnant or have just given birth. But he stopped short of banning the practice.

His final report makes 62 recommendations that he said will help to create a more humane, and human-rights based system.

Not all of the issues he looked at “are big and complex,” he said in his report. “Sometimes it is important to sweat the small stuff. Getting small problems fixed can help prevent big problems, or at the very least, mitigate the impacts of larger concerns.”

Improving family visits will help foster information sharing, and better policy around strip searches would improve staff-prisoner relations, the report says.

Sapers noted that across the country, and globally, correctional facilities “have put in place a range of measures to help facilitate family contact and support, including child-friendly play spaces, open visiting areas that allow for barrier-free interactions, private family visiting accommodations for longer stays, and mother-child programs that prevent the separation of mothers and young children.

“Ontario’s correctional institutions offer almost none of these opportunities. The vast majority of visits between inmates and their loved ones in Ontario are limited to 20- to 40-minute sessions during which visitors and inmates are physically separated by a barrier.”

Corrections Minister Marie-France Lalonde said the government is opening two new facilities with designs to reflect modern corrections practices, and also hire more staff.

Lalonde, acknowledging that work needs to be done, said more money will be spent, and that updated legislation will be tabled this fall.

“There will not be a ‘mission accomplished’ moment after which we can say the job is done,” Sapers told reporters. “Ensuring fair, safe and human corrections requires commitment every day.”

Last April, Lalonde also heard from the provincial ombudsman, who cited serious issues with segregation and how institutions across the province use different definitions making its use hard to track.

At that time, Paul Dubé warned that the highly publicized case of inmate Adam Capay — who spent four years in a windowless, solitary cell in a Thunder Bay jail while awaiting trial on murder charges — would, and is, happening in other jails. Lalonde said that report, and the two from Sapers, will inform provincial reforms, and she will address all the recommendations.

Ontario has 8,000 inmates in its jails, with an estimated 560 in segregation.

Segregation can be used for disciplinary purposes, as well as for inmate safety, but in cases of punishment is limited to 15 days in a row.


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