Ontario’s Ombudsman is ‘asking questions’ to provincial authorities about prison segregation

The Ontario Ombudsman’s office says it will “ask questions” of the Ministry of the Attorney General after CBC investigation found that the use of segregation has increased in recent years and is occurring more often in Hamilton than in any other provincial prison.

Segregation, also known as solitary confinement, occurs when prisoners are physically and socially isolated in a cell for 22 hours or more.

A CBC Hamilton data analysis found that segregation in Ontario’s prisons has been increasing since 2019, even though the Ontario Human Rights Commission has insisted that the province gradually phase out prison segregation. 2016.

At the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Center (HWDC), it occurs at a much higher rate than in the rest of Ontario and has reached the UN threshold for torture, with some segregation periods lasting as long as 21 days.

The investigation also found that a third of people in segregation at the Hamilton prison had a mental health warning on their records.

Many people are incarcerated in Hamilton and other provincial prisons he was not convicted for the charges that put them behind bars.

On Monday, Linda Williamson, a spokeswoman for the ombudsman’s office, told CBC Hamilton via email that segregation is “an issue of grave concern.”

The office will be asking questions about the matter, but Williamson did not confirm when it would do so or what specific questions it would involve.

A former Canadian corrections investigator called CBC News’ findings “alarming” and said there needs to be a review of the reasons why segregation has become more common since early 2019. He also called for an end to segregation.

The provincial government said it has “made progress” in preventing segregation, invests in prisons every year to improve conditions, and said segregation is sometimes necessary to protect people.

It also said that “the time prisoners spend in segregation has been significantly reduced” and that “regulatory changes are now in force” to remove legal limits on the length of segregation and to prohibit segregation for people with mental health problems and to carry out independent reviews of people segregated.

The Ontario government announced a plan Monday to hire 200 more corrections workers and add 430 additional beds in provincial prisons by 2026, but did not announce any new beds for Hamilton.

She also announced that she would reopen the Regional Intermittent Center at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Center in London and the Toronto Intermittent Center at the Toronto South Detention Centre.

Data obtained by The Canadian Press through freedom of information laws shows the vast majority of prisons in the province are over capacity. As of September 30, 2023, an average of 8,889 people were incarcerated in provincial prisons, a significantly higher population than 7,848. Overall, prisons were operating at a 113% capacity at the time.

Segregation ‘affects inmates’ rights’: Ombudsman

A CBC analysis of provincial data found the Hamilton jail accounted for about one in five segregation sites reported in 25 Ontario correctional facilities between April 2022 and March 2023.

During this period, HWDC had more than 1,408 inmates placed in segregation 11,494 times. This equates to an estimated 31 placements per prisoner per year.

Williamson, of the ombudsman’s office, said she was particularly concerned about segregation for people with mental health problems.

“Segregation affects the rights of prisoners, many of whom remain in these facilities awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime,” she wrote.

The file photo shows Paul Dubé, Ontario’s ombudsman. His 2017 report concluded that segregation should only be used as a last resort. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

She said the Ombudsman also called for reform on this issue, pointing to hers 32 recommendations to the province after the 2017 segregation report.

“We have also resumed sending investigative teams to facilities to see first-hand the conditions that should have been abandoned during the pandemic,” Williamson said.

She noted that the Ombudsman’s annual report would be published at the end of the month and would include a section on corrections.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Center has the highest segregation rate in the province since early 2021. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Michelle Johal, vice president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers, said the ombudsman’s response was “a step in the right direction.”

“The consequences of being held in custody, let alone segregated, while awaiting trial can be disastrous. People may lose employment, housing and social support,” she said.

Hamilton Mayor, opposition parties are calling on Ontario MPs to make changes

Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath told CBC Hamilton she “encourages” the province to find out why segregation has become more common and find solutions that can be implemented “as quickly as possible.”

“No one, including myself, wants to see any correctional facility in our city or in any part of our province or country unable to meet the basic humanitarian and safety needs of incarcerated people,” she said in an emailed statement.

Toronto Member of Parliament and NDP opposition critic for Attorney General Kristyn Wong-Tam posted on the social media site X that the province was not heeding calls to improve infrastructure, resources and staffing in prisons.

“Refused to listen and act, now Ontario prisons are more overcrowded and less safe than ever before,” Wong-Tam wrote on June 8.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, in a statement to CBC, said the numbers were “extremely alarming” and accused the government of “exacerbating the human rights crisis.”

Schreiner said the province needs to invest money in the prison system to keep prisons “safe and humane.”

He also said courts need better funding to “ensure timely access to hearing dates.”

He added that more investment in housing, education and mental health would also help reduce the number of people in prison.

Sarah Jama, an independent member of provincial parliament for Hamilton Centre, said the findings showed the full “dire consequences of systemic failures on many levels.”

“As part of a larger system of power and control, prisons are incapable of rehabilitation – a claim we often hear as a justification for incarceration.”