‘Poor living conditions’ in Ontario’s overcrowded jails top complaints to ombudsman (The Star)

June 26, 2024

26 June 2024

Concerns about “poor living conditions” in Ontario’s overcrowded jails — including rodents — topped complaints to the provincial ombudsman last year.

Rob Ferguson
26 June 2024
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Concerns about “poor living conditions” in Ontario’s overcrowded jails — including rodents — topped complaints to the provincial ombudsman last year.

In his annual report, Paul Dubé said complaints from citizens about government services including child welfare, delays at the Landlord and Tenant Board and supports to developmentally disabled adults and other issues were up 10 per cent to 27,030 in the 12 months ending March 31.

“The systems are struggling,” the independent officer of the legislature told a news conference Wednesday. “Urgent attention is needed.”

In jails, complaints centred on medical care, overcrowding, solitary confinement and use of force by correctional officers, prompting Dubé and members of his team to visit the Sudbury Jail, Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, the Vanier Centre for Women and the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre.
For example, “poor living conditions and a mouse infestation” were the subject of discussions with management at the Sudbury Jail while overcrowding at the Vanier Centre led to complaints of “no access to services, including showers, due to construction projects,” the ombudsman wrote in his 104-page report.

Several shortfalls on medical care in jails were highlighted.

In one case, an inmate transferred to a new jail did not get his regular prescription medication for three weeks until the ombudsman’s team got involved.

Dubé would not comment on whether the push for bail reform from Premier Doug Ford and others would worsen overcrowding in jails, but said of inmates, “most of them are awaiting trial and are presumed innocent.”

Despite regulations making it unlawful for jails to put inmates known to have “serious mental illness” in segregation, complaints about this happening continue to come in.

“We are making inquiries with facilities and senior ministry officials about these cases, and about how the ministry plans to comply with the regulation.”

The problems cited in the report show Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has a lot of work to do on improving services and oversight, said Green Leader Mike Schreiner.

“The premier’s disregard for the people of this province shows up everywhere,” Schreiner said.

In the 104-page report, Dubé points to a number of disturbing cases where his staff has intervened.

They include a young man who missed four months of payouts because of bureaucratic delays in transferring his file to the Ontario Disability Support Program from the Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities Program. He was granted $4,500 in retroactive benefits.

When a youth complained about “irregular and insufficient” meals at his group home, government inspectors were sent in to order improvements.

As part of a soon-to-be-completed investigation into adults with developmental disabilities who are inappropriately housed in hospitals due to a lack of support in the community, Dubé’s staff is reviewing the case of a 22-year-old man with autism and a history of self- injury.

He had been in hospital for three years, “spending much of that time in restraints.” The ombudsman’s office flagged his situation to senior bureaucrats and a home was found for him in the community where he has “adjusted well,” the report said.
While the Landlord and Tenant Board now has 133 adjudicators, up from 78 a year ago, Dubé noted it is “still grappling” with a backlog of cases as renters and owners in disputes seek justice.