This joint submission identifies concrete investments that should be earmarked in Ontario’s 2020 budget to protect the health and safety of vulnerable and marginalized Ontarians incarcerated in provincial institutions and the brave men and women working inside them.
This submission reflects the collective front-line, legal, policy and lived experiences of many stakeholders. It was developed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and the OPSEU Corrections Management-Employee Relations Committee (MERC), with input from the following key stakeholders:
- Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario
- Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario
- John Howard Society of Ontario
- Registered Nurses Association of Ontario
- Schizophrenia Society of Ontario
- Howard Sapers, past Independent Reviewer of Ontario Corrections.
We have prioritized concrete actions that are achievable insofar as they do not require legislative reform or new infrastructure, but which are also potentially transformative in terms of the day-to-day lived reality of both inmates and corrections staff.
Ontario’s correctional facilities are unhealthy and unsafe
The current conditions in Ontario’s jails and correctional centres present serious health and safety issues for both inmates and front-line staff.
Inmates are held in inhumane condition characterized by:
- 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.
Despite courts across Canada recognizing the profound and lasting harm of segregation, in the past year, there were 23,667 segregation placements in Ontario. Over 4,000 of those placements exceeded 15 days. A majority of the people placed in segregation had a “mental health alert” on their file.
Because of the previous trauma they have often experienced in the community, these conditions of confinement pose unique challenges for women and First Nations, Métis and Inuit (Indigenous) peoples and require the development of culturally-safe and gender-responsive services.
Within this environment, it is perhaps not surprising that front-line corrections staff are exposed to serious health and safety risks. Recent studies commissioned by the government confirm that the majority of front-line officers do not feel safe, and that 66 per cent of correctional officers are worried about being assaulted by an inmate at least once a week. Front-line correctional staff are being asked to work in challenging conditions, without being provided with the resources, training or support needed to protect their safety or that of inmates. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a direct result of their jobs.
Investments are urgently needed to address the crisis in Ontario corrections
Our view, based on our collective front-line, legal and policy expertise, is that the current health and safety issues in Ontario corrections amount to a crisis and require an urgent investment from the government.
To that end, we have identified concrete actions that would help address the immediate health and safety issues facing inmates and staff, and which could be achieved through investments in the 2020 budget.
The actions we have identified are largely based on recommendations made by Ontario’s Independent Advisor on Corrections Reform and the Expert Advisory Committee on Healthcare Transformation in Corrections. We have prioritized investments that do not require legislative changes or new correctional infrastructure.
We identified these actions based on our own areas of expertise as well as through consultation with key stakeholders representing the interests of both inmates and front-line correctional workers. While these stakeholders have different perspectives on the goals and objectives of long-term correctional reform, there is agreement that the actions identified below should be prioritized today.
Investment in concrete actions to support inmate and staff health and safety
We ask that the government invest the necessary resources in Ontario’s 2020 budget to support the following actions:
- Reduce overcrowding in Ontario’s correctional facilities by working with the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) and justice and community partners to make sure that custody in a correctional facility is used only as a last resort, by:
- Developing non-institutional forms of pre-trial detention, including safe and sustainable alternatives to incarceration used in other jurisdictions
- Identifying existing community-based services and programs that could be leveraged to promote an individual’s safe, gradual release from custody
- Expanding access to, and use of, parole.
Support front-line staff
- Establish new recruitment benchmarks for staffing related to:
- Ontario’s correctional facilities, based on past audits, analysis of staffing needs for alternate units and position workloads
- Probation and parole services, based on the expanded access to and use of parole.
- Provide correctional staff with the training and support they need to safely and effectively do their jobs, while also meeting their human rights obligations, including:
- Developing a comprehensive staff mental health strategy to assist in coping with occupational stress and injuries
- Reviewing the current Use of Force Model and the effectiveness of the use of force training against evidence-based best correctional practices
- Updating the Correctional Officer Training and Assessment (COTA) program for new recruits and providing equivalent training programs for existing corrections staff to:
- Incorporate core competencies that reflect the dual nature of correctional work which encompasses both security and care
- Emphasize the importance of fostering an institutional culture characterized by legality, dignity and respect
- Emphasize verbal and other de-escalation training including specific situational guidance for managing vulnerable or high-needs inmates
- Include training on correctional and human rights law as well as criminal procedure
- Enhancing human rights content in initial and ongoing staff training
- Requiring all staff to participate in mandatory Indigenous cultural-safety training developed and delivered with diverse Indigenous peoples.
Ensure inmates have access to healthcare and rehabilitation opportunities
- Evaluate the overall approach to healthcare provision, including treatment of disease or injury, vision care, dental care, hearing loss, and other preventive and allied services and treatment, based on best practice standards and options on how best to meet the medical needs of inmates.
- Establish connections between all correctional institutions and their respective Ontario Health Teams to enhance and coordinate the delivery of healthcare services to inmates in custody and upon release.
- Ensure that inmates have access to adequate healthcare including:
- Providing for full-time healthcare professional staff at all correctional facilities, including 24-hour nursing coverage
- Operationalizing the medical unit at Vanier Centre for Women
- Expanding access to dedicated psychiatric bed space in local hospitals
- Creating dedicated forensic psychiatric bed space for women with mental health disabilities that provides treatment equivalent to that available to men at the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre.
- Allocate appropriate resources and supports to ensure that gender-responsive and evidence-based rehabilitative programs are routinely scheduled and consistently available in each institution based on individualized risk/needs assessments.
- Continue to implement the terms of the Jahn v MCSCS settlement and Ontario Human Rights Commission v Ontario order, and implement all recommendations made by the Independent Expert, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, and in the forthcoming Final Report of the Independent Reviewer, Justice David Cole.
- Address the unique needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit (Indigenous) inmates including:
- Appointing an Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for a fully staffed, fully resourced Indigenous Policy and Programs Division within Correctional Services
- Meaningfully incorporating Gladue factors into every decision impacting an Indigenous person's liberty, including decisions around segregation
- Ensuring that each institution provides inmates with regular access to Elders in an appropriate space and that there is designated space for ceremonies
- Establishing Indigenous Program Support Units in each correctional institution
- Expanding and strengthening the role of the Native Inmate Liaison Officer to allow for complete access to all inmates.
- Ensure that inmate’s needs are identified and addressed prior to discharge, including clothing, medication, transportation, facilitation of property return from the institution, and referrals to community supports and services.
Enhance oversight and accountability
- Establish an Inspector General to provide independent oversight of Ontario’s correctional institutions.
- Ensure that segregation reviews are conducted by decision-makers independent of the government.
Modernize correctional infrastructure and information management systems
- Modernize existing correctional infrastructure to enable use of appropriate alternatives to segregation, including:
- Completing a facility deficiency review by the end of the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year
- Effectively operationalizing standardized alternative units to better meet the needs of inmates who are currently housed in segregation
- Establishing multi-security-level facilities for risk-based inmate placement.
- Continue to modernize disaggregated data collection and information sharing protocols.
Originally submitted November 2019