Hon. Sylvia Jones
Ministry of the Solicitor General
18th Floor, George Drew Building
25 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1Y6
Dear Solicitor General Jones:
Re: Ontario’s investment in corrections
In our last letter of November 26, 2019, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and the OPSEU Corrections Ministry-Employee Relations Committee (MERC) shared our joint Budget Submission to the Minister of Finance, which stressed the urgent need for funding to address pressing health and safety issues in Ontario’s correctional system. This submission was also presented to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs during its pre-budget consultations in January 2020.
We are encouraged by the government’s recent announcement that more than $500 million will be invested in Ontario’s correctional system over the next five years. Having emphasized for years the need for sufficient resources to address challenges in Ontario’s corrections system, we are pleased with the government’s commitment to an investment of this scale.
Our hope is that this funding will go towards actions needed to ensure that Ontario’s correctional system is safe for and respects the rights of both prisoners and front-line staff across the province. These actions, which are set out our attached joint Budget Submission, include the need to:
- Address overcrowding
- Support front-line staff, including through proper recruitment and training
- Ensure prisoners have access to health care and rehabilitation, including implementing the terms of the Jahn v MCSCS settlement and Ontario Human Rights Commission v Ontario order
- Address the unique needs of Indigenous prisoners
- Enhance oversight and accountability
- Modernize correctional infrastructure and information management systems, including enabling the use of alternatives to segregation.
All of these actions, which were identified in consultation with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario, John Howard Society of Ontario, Registered Nurses of Ontario and Institute for Advancements in Mental Health (formerly the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario), are concrete, achievable and could transform the day-to-day lived reality of both prisoners and corrections staff.
In particular, we would like to emphasize the importance of aiming this investment at preventing overcrowding. In recent years, extreme overcrowding has presented one of most serious issues in corrections, causing significant harm to the health and safety of prisoners and staff. We now know that addressing overcrowding is indeed achievable, as shown by the government’s successful and commendable action to decrease the custodial population in response to COVID-19. As we move forward, all efforts should be made to ensure that custody is only used as a last resort, that the number of people in Ontario’s corrections system stays at a manageable level, and that the system never again experiences the crisis-inducing levels of overcrowding that occurred prior to COVID-19.
We are eager to learn more about the changes that will come from the government’s investment, and would be happy to meet with you to provide our input on how the funding could be most effectively allocated.
Again, the OHRC and MERC are encouraged by the government’s announcement, and urge you to allocate this investment in a way that directly improves the on-the-ground conditions prisoners and front-line staff face every day in Ontario.
Ministry-Employee Relations Committee Corrections, OPSEU
Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel
Ontario Human Rights Commission
cc: Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General
Canadian Mental Health Association-Ontario
Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario
John Howard Society of Ontario
Registered Nurses Association of Ontario
Institute for Advancements in Mental Health
Violetta Igneski, OHRC Commissioner
Jewel Amoah, OHRC Commissioner