Former prison watchdog says it's time to scale back on segregation in Ontario

Ontario's new independent adviser on corrections reform says the province needs to renew its focus on and find alternatives to segregation.

Ontario corrections needs to 'renew focus' on segregation and find alternatives to it

Howard Sapers, Canada's former correctional investigator and Ontario's new independent adviser on corrections reform, says segregation is overused in the province. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Ontario's new independent adviser on corrections reform says the province needs to renew its focus on and find alternatives to segregation.

"I don't expect that it's entirely going to disappear, but it's supposed to be exceptional, it's supposed to be rare, and particularly over the last decade it's been neither of those things," Howard Sapers told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.

"So what we need is to ... renew our focus to finding alternatives to segregation, and when it is being used, ensure that there is robust oversight over how it's used, who goes in and when they get out."

Sapers — who for 12 years served as Canada's correctional investigator and ombudsman for federal offenders — is tasked with reviewing the use of segregation in Ontario jails and providing advice on improving confinement conditions and finding alternatives.

He has 60 days to finalize a report.

Enhance relationship between corrections, health care

While he didn't want to prejudice the outcome of that report so early on in the process, he said Tuesday that there are a number of things to be explored, including:

  • Training and staffing issues for front-line staff.
  • Finding step-down housing alternatives to segregation.
  • Enhancing the relationship between corrections and the health care system for high-needs offenders.
  • Enhancing oversight into segregation use.

"If the only place you have for somebody who is acting in a bizarre way, for example, as a result of their mental illness ... is a segregation cell, then that's the option you're going to use," Sapers said.

"Sometimes people are sent into segregation and the easiest thing to do is just to maintain them in segregation. It's the path of least resistance. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. So we have to provide enhanced mechanisms for the review process and the release process to ensure that segregation is used minimally, which is what the law requires."