Ontario says segregation to become 'last resort' in jails
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 17, 2016 3:30PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 17, 2016 4:59PM EDT
Segregation will now only be used as "a measure of last resort" in correctional facilities in Ontario and the amount of time inmates can be isolated for bad behaviour is being cut in half.
Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti announced changes Monday to the province's segregation policies, but signalled that more will be coming. The government will appoint an independent, external reviewer to look at how to reduce the number of people in segregation, provide alternatives for vulnerable inmates and improve both conditions and oversight.
The Liberal government had been reviewing its policies since March, but one of the conclusions it came to was that even more review was needed, Orazietti said.
"We recognize that there are certainly some changes that need to be made within the correctional division of our ministry and we believe that it has come to the point in the correctional division that the benefit of an additional, outside, third-party independent analysis of the changes and the focus in terms of driving that transformation, will give us a very effective plan that we can implement," he said.
The government expects to have an implementation plan informed by the external review by the spring of 2017, but Orazietti announced several immediate changes Monday.
Segregation will only be used as a last resort and under the least restrictive conditions that maintain inmate and staff safety, he said. Inmates can only be held in disciplinary segregation for a maximum of 15 consecutive days, down from 30. While in disciplinary segregation they cannot have all of their privileges revoked.
The province also wants a weekly segregation review committee created at each institution to conduct case reviews of all inmates in segregation.
NDP critic Jennifer French said Monday's announcement amounted to a job posting.
"This doesn't address the underlying issues," she said. "We want to see an end to indefinite segregation."
Inmates could still be held indefinitely on administrative segregation, such as when their safety would be at risk in the general population.
Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union's corrections division, said mental health issues are a major problem in jails and this announcement doesn't address them.
"I think they're just trying to give the appearance now there's something in place, but I think it's falling short," he said.
"Until they decide to actually put some resources and invest in our infrastructure and put the mental health resources there we're going to still be dealing with the same challenges."
Orazietti said his ministry will work with the health ministry to "explore ways to enhance the appropriate supports for inmates with mental health issues and other vulnerable inmates."
Earlier this year, the province's ombudsman urged the government to end indefinite segregation, saying the office had received many complaints, including from one person who was in isolation for more than three years.
The ombudsman called on the government to abolish indefinite segregation -- longer than 15 days, consistent with a United Nations recommendation -- and to keep no inmate in isolation for more than 60 days in a year.
The changes announced Monday would not prevent an inmate for being held in disciplinary segregation for 15 days, being out for one day, then in isolation for another 15 days, with the cycle repeating, Orazietti acknowledged.
"That's not what we want to see happen," he said.
"The individual also will play a role in that determination because at the end of the day we do not want to compromise in any way whatsoever the safety of any individual in the institution."