Ontario Must Curtail Segregation in Provincial Jails

CCLA has long been concerned about the widespread use of segregation in Canadian prisons and jails – a practice that has significant impacts on prisoners’ fundamental rights. Recently, CCLA submitted a comprehensive brief to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS), which is currently reviewing segregation practices in the province’s jails.

Unfortunately, comprehensive data about the use of segregation in Ontario correctional institutions has not been made available. However, the information we do have is concerning. It was recently revealed that, over a five-month period in 2015, more than 1600 prisoners were admitted to segregation in only two Ontario jails. Meanwhile, over a five-month period in 2014, at least 360 Ontario inmates were confined to segregation for 30 or more consecutive days. Fully 40% of those inmates had identified mental health issues or other special needs.

In the brief submitted to MCSCS, CCLA called on Ontario to commit to abolishing segregation in all but exceptional circumstances, with strict procedural protections and enhanced oversight, review and accountability mechanisms. Specifically, CCLA advanced 15 concrete recommendations, including:

  • Commit to the goal of abolishing segregation, except in the most extenuating and temporary circumstances;
  • Explore and implement alternatives to segregation, as employed in other jurisdictions;
  • Enforce a prohibition against segregating inmates with mental illness;
  • Place firm caps on the amount of time an inmate may lawfully spend in segregation, including an absolute prohibition on long-term placements in segregation (over 15 days);
  • Ensure inmates in segregation have access to all standard rights, including family visits, telephone calls, programming and exercise;
  • Create an independent review process staffed by impartial, legally trained adjudicators, in order to conduct external reviews of all segregation placements; and,
  • Strengthen oversight of Ontario jails, consistent with the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which Canada recently committed to join.

To quote Justice Louise Arbour, who in 1996 conducted a groundbreaking inquiry into human rights abuses at a federal prison, “[w]e must break the mindset which assumes the inevitability of segregation.” Significant changes in legislation, policy, oversight and correctional culture are needed to ensure prisoners are no longer subjected to inhumane conditions in segregation cells. 

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Jonah Kanter
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