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Data confirms alarming systemic overuse of segregation in Ontario’s correctional facilities

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October 18, 2016

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Toronto – In a supplementary submission released today, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) again calls on the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) to end the practice of segregation (also known as solitary confinement) in Ontario’s correctional facilities.

Following its original submission to the Provincial Segregation Review in January 2016, the OHRC asked MCSCS to provide disaggregated human rights-based data on its use of segregation. The statistics MCSCS provided support the OHRC’s position that prisoners’ human rights are being violated under Ontario’s Human Rights Code (“Code”).

The statistics reveal alarming and systemic overuse of segregation. Over a 3-month period, about 19% of prisoners (4,178 people) were placed in segregation at least once. Of the segregation placements during this time, roughly 1,383 were for 15 days or more. According to United Nations’ standards, segregation placements longer than 15 days can be considered “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and should be prohibited.

“The statistics are just one part of the story,” comments OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “It’s not just numbers – people are living out these experiences. I recently met a young Indigenous man at the Thunder Bay Jail who has been held in continuous segregation, in particularly restrictive conditions, for over four years. It is clear that his long-term isolation has negatively affected his mental health. For that prisoner, and others, this is an urgent life-and-death human rights issue.”

The OHRC continues to be extremely concerned about the disproportionate use of and harm caused by segregation for prisoners with mental health disabilities, and MCSCS’ compliance with its obligations under the Jahn v. Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services settlement. As part of the settlement, MCSCS is prohibited from using segregation for prisoners with mental illness to the point of undue hardship. However, the statistics show that 38.2% of the prisoners (1,594 people) who were placed in segregation had a ‘mental health alert’ on their file.

These statistics underscore how critical it is to have data about what is happening behind the closed doors of Ontario’s correctional facilities. To that end, the OHRC has called on the government to collect and publicly release data on its use of segregation on an annual basis. However, collecting data is just one step – MCSCS must be accountable for addressing the significant human rights concerns revealed by any data. In the OHRC’s view, what is shown by the statistics already available is more than enough to trigger the government’s obligation to address how its use of segregation is violating prisoners’ rights.

Following the Chief Commissioner’s recent visit to the Thunder Bay Jail, MCSCS announced on October 17 that it will appoint an independent external reviewer to further examine the use of segregation in the province's adult correctional facilities. The OHRC appreciates the government’s stated commitment to improving the use of segregation in Ontario. However, given what is already known about the serious human rights issues associated with segregation, the OHRC calls on the government to take immediate steps to address the circumstances of individuals currently being held in long-term administrative segregation.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Afroze Edwards
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Human Rights Commission
416-314-4528