Abolish indefinite segregation: Ombudsman

Abolish indefinite segregation: Ombudsman

May 10, 2016

10 May 2016

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today urged the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to abolish the practice of placing inmates indefinitely in segregation and develop alternatives to protect the rights of the vulnerable.

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(TORONTO – May 10, 2016) - Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today urged the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to abolish the practice of placing inmates indefinitely in segregation and develop alternatives to protect the rights of the vulnerable.

“Indefinite segregation should no longer be an accepted or legal correctional practice in Ontario,” Mr. Dubé states in his office’s submission to the province’s consultation on the use of solitary confinement (also known as segregation).

While acknowledging this will be a “daunting task,” he stresses that Ontario’s long-term plan should be to develop housing and programs for vulnerable inmates with developmental, behavioural and mental health challenges. In the short term, robust safeguards should be put in place now to protect the rights of anyone placed in segregation – such as requiring that they be assessed by a mental health provider every 24 hours.

In the submission, entitled Not an Isolated Problem, the Ombudsman calls on the Ministry to address what he calls “the serious adverse effects of segregation and the wholesale inadequacy of existing procedural protections.” He makes 28 recommendations, including creating an independent panel to review segregation placements, and giving procedures – such as a 15-day limit on placements – the force of law.

“The only way to ensure fairness for segregated inmates is to establish an independent segregation review panel, enshrine procedural guarantees in regulation rather than policy, and establish systematic monitoring of segregation practices,” he says in the submission. “These oversight mechanisms should be combined with an enhanced emphasis on the well-being, treatment, and rehabilitation of segregated inmates.”

The Ombudsman’s office has significant experience in dealing with complaints about provincial correctional facilities, resolving some 4,000 each year. It has received 557 complaints related to segregation in the past three years, and repeatedly sounded the alarm about correctional officials ignoring segregation policies. In one case, an inmate was kept in segregation for more than three years, Mr. Dubé notes.

“In our Office’s 2014-2015 Annual Report, it was noted that complaints to the Ombudsman from segregated inmates had increased significantly. They also highlighted the disconnect between the reality of segregation and the practice envisioned by the Ministry’s regulation and policy.”

The Ombudsman’s office identified several systemic issues arising from complaints it has received. For example, all segregation placements are required by law to be reviewed within the jail every five days – but the Ombudsman obtained documentation in one case that revealed they were only done every 20 days, on average. Segregation placements must be reviewed by outside officials at 30 and 60 days. But the Ombudsman’s probes typically find “scant documentation… and virtually no reasons to support the outcome of the review.”

Ombudsman staff alerted the Ministry to several segregation placements longer than three months in 2013 and 2014 where the required documentation could not be produced. One facility was found to have fabricated documentation when managers could not find it – prompting an audit that determined “most of the reviews that should have been completed could not be found.” Documentation problems persisted last year.

The Ministry does not routinely record the number of inmates in segregation. However, it recently compiled data revealing that the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and the Central East Correctional Centre had 1,677 segregation admissions in just a five-month period last year. Given that, “it is difficult to understand the Ministry’s policy position that segregation is a last resort, carefully controlled and monitored,” Mr. Dubé says. Rather, it is clearly “a tool regularly used by managers to separate out and effectively punish the most ‘difficult’ and vulnerable inmates.”

Recent amendments to the Ministry’s segregation policy to help inmates who have mental health issues are not sufficient, the Ombudsman notes. He calls for “a broader and more transformative approach” to balance concerns for security and safety with respect for individual human rights.

Mr. Dubé and other Ombudsman staff met with the Associate Deputy Minister and other senior officials on April 27 to discuss the submission as part of the Ministry’s ongoing consultations. The Ministry also recently invited public input via an online form, with a deadline of May 15.

The United Nations has declared that placing inmates in segregation for longer than 15 days is a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Others who have made similar recommendations include the inquest into the death of federal inmate Ashley Smith, federal Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, and Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane.

For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications
416-586-3426, lwilliamson@ombudsman.on.ca