The Ontario Human Rights Commission and OPSEU, the union that represents front-line correctional staff, are calling on the Ontario government to address the ‘crisis’ in the province’s correctional system.

The human rights commission and chief commissioner Renu Mandhane visited 10 correctional facilities in Ontario, including a visit to the Kenora jail in February of 2017, to meet with front-line staff and prisoners to see the facilities’ conditions first hand.

“Prisoners are being held in inhumane conditions with gross overcrowding, inadequate physical and mental healthcare and addictions treatment and no meaningful access to programming or rehabilitation services,” stated their report, presented to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs’ budget consultations.

The OHRC says the conditions within Ontario’s correctional facilities include:

- Gross overcrowding, with triple bunking being common place,
- Inadequate physical and mental healthcare and addictions treatment and support,
- No meaningful access to programming or rehabilitation services,
- Extensive use of solitary confinement or “segregation” without safe alternatives.

“At the same time, front-line correctional staff are working in extremely challenging conditions without the resources, training or support needed to protect their safety or that of prisoners. Most do not feel safe, and many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of their jobs,” the report continued.

The OHRC and OPSEU are calling for dedicated correctional facility funding in Ontario’s yearly budgets, and the two parties have identified investments that they say would reduce violence and save lives:

- Address overcrowding by using alternatives to pre-trial detention and expanding access to parole, and making sure that custody in corrections is only a last resort,
- Increase front-line staffing levels,
- Support front-line staff by developing a staff mental health strategy and providing enhanced training on areas like human rights, de-escalation techniques, and Indigenous cultural competence, - Ensure that prisoners can access healthcare and rehabilitation opportunities, including by providing for sufficient healthcare staffing,
- Operationalize alternative units to get people out of solitary confinement,
- Enhance oversight and accountability of correctional institutions,
- Modernize correctional infrastructure and information management systems,

“By making these crucial investments, this government will not only be taking steps to meet its human rights obligations, but averting the very real risk of further deaths in custody and physical and psychological harm to correctional officers,” said Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “We cannot ignore that a very human cost is being paid every day by not addressing this crisis.”

The OHRC is also hoping to change the use of segregation in Ontario facilities, and have used Adam Capay’s case as an example. The Lac Seul First Nation member was held in continuous segregation for more than 1,500 days.

Courts, experts and oversight bodies – including the OHRC – have all identified Ontario’s internal segregation reviews as being inadequate for safeguarding human rights, and have consistently stated that meaningful and truly independent oversight of segregation must be external.

In the past year, over 23,600 inmates were placed into solitary confinement, and over 4,000 of those placements exceeded 15 days. The report states that a majority of the people placed in segregation had a “mental health alert” on their file.

Last year, a lawyer with the attorney general's office estimated 89 per cent of inmates at the Kenora Jail were Indigenous, and 90 per cent of them were presume innocent, while awaiting court dates.

The Kenora Jail was built in 1926 and is one of Ontario’s 25 adult correctional institutions. It serves the entire northwestern Ontario region. Improvements to the facility, announced in 2019, include upgraded infrastructure, strengthened partnerships with police agencies, improved security and new training measures.

For more information:
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