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Segregation and mental health in Ontario’s prisons: Jahn v. Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services

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On August 5, 2013, the Commission intervened in a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario application about the use of segregation and treatment of prisoners with mental health disabilities in Ontario’s correctional facilities.

The Application was filed by Christina Jahn against the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.  Ms. Jahn is a woman with mental illness, addictions and cancer, who went through two periods of incarceration in 2011 and 2012 at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.   She alleged that she was placed in segregation for the entire period of both incarcerations (approximately 210 days) and experienced brutal and humiliating treatment because of her gender and mental health disabilities. 

The Commission intervened in the application to address the systemic issues that led to Ms. Jahn not receiving appropriate mental health services and being placed in segregation. A key concern was the fact that women in Ontario’s correctional facilities did not have access to the same mental health services as men.

The 2013 Jahn settlement agreement

In 2013, the parties reached a landmark settlement agreement providing for a wide range of public interest remedies to address the use of segregation and treatment of prisoners, and particularly women, with mental health disabilities in Ontario’s correctional facilities.

See the full list of public interest remedies negotiated as part of the Jahn settlement.

The results of the Jahn settlement implementation, which is ongoing, include the following:

  • Gender-based mental health screening for all prisoners upon admission;
  • Policy changes to prohibit the use of either disciplinary or administrative segregation for any prisoner with mental health disabilities barring undue hardship;
  • MCSCS has conducted a review to determine how to best serve the needs of women prisoners with mental health disabilities. The Executive Summary of the review is available here (the full report is available from MCSCS upon request).
  • MCSCS is required to provide all prisoners placed in segregation with a Segregation Handout setting out information about their rights. Information about prisoners’ rights in segregation is now also included in MCSCS’ Inmate Information Guide for Adult Institutions.
    • Concerns that prisoners were not receiving this information led to a second settlement agreement in December 2015, which included further public interest remedies to ensure prisoners in segregation receive information about their rights. The terms include MCSCS posting signage in all segregation areas stating that prisoners must receive information about their rights, and developing a process for staff from the Elizabeth Fry Society and John Howard  Society to notify MCSCS about any cases where this may not have occurred.