The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) supports the proposed Correctional Services Transformation Act (CSTA), introduced on February 20, 2018, as an important step towards meeting Ontario’s ambitious commitments in relation to correctional reform.
The OHRC welcomes the proposed changes and new directions set out in the CSTA, including commitments to:
- Protect the human rights of groups protected under Ontario’s Human Rights Code – particularly Indigenous peoples, who face unique disadvantages and are overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system
- Establish minimum conditions of confinement for all prisoners – such as access to religious and spiritual programs, health care, natural light and fresh air, recreation, visits, and the library; and minimum standards of food, clothing and hygiene
- Create an Inspector General of Corrections to provide necessary oversight
- Establish Community Advisory Boards that reflect the demographic make-up of each correctional institution.
In relation to solitary confinement (“segregation”), the legislation includes essential protections consistent with the OHRC’s submissions to government, such as:
- Strict time limits on the use of segregation
- Prohibitions on segregation for especially vulnerable people, such as people with mental health disabilities
- Oversight of segregation placements by Independent Review Panels.
It is essential that Ontario demonstrate a sustained commitment to correctional reform and effectively implement these protections in each of its 26 institutions. This momentum is critical to fully realize the promise of the legislation and would position Ontario as a national and global leader. The OHRC calls on the government to provide adequate protection to vulnerable prisoners as the changes are rolled out.
Broader reforms to law enforcement, the administration of justice, and health care are needed to address the over-representation of Indigenous and Black prisoners and people with mental health disabilities in Ontario’s correctional facilities. The OHRC welcomes the opportunity to work closely with the government on reforms in these systems.
“Introduction of the Correctional Services Transformation Act is a major step forward in addressing serious human rights issues in Ontario’s correctional system. These reforms have the potential to positively impact some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “Still, we must not lose sight of the pressing need to reduce reliance on incarceration, especially for the 60% of Ontario’s prisoners who are legally innocent and remanded into custody.”