Solitary confinement use to be curbed in Ontario jails

Solitary confinement in Ontario jails and correctional facilities will only be used as "a measure of last resort" under new regulatory changes announced by the provincial government.

Maximum time for disciplinary segregation to be reduced from 30 to 15 consecutive days

The number of consecutive days an inmate can be placed in disciplinary segregation will be reduced from 30 days to 15 days. (Sean Hobson/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Solitary confinement in Ontario jails and correctional facilities will only be used as "a measure of last resort" under new regulatory changes announced by the provincial government.

Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti says solitary confinement — or segregation, as it is officially called — should be used "under the least restrictive conditions possible" while still maintaining inmate and staff safety.

The province has been under pressure to reform its use of segregation, particularly after reports of poor conditions at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, including an ombudsman's submission in May that called on the provincial government to abolish the practice of putting inmates in indefinite segregation.

Orazietti said he's aware some have called for the total elimination of segregation, but he said that's not a practical solution right now.

"It doesn't really stand the test of the practical realities in the institutions, where an individual may need to be segregated for their own safety or the safety of others," said Orazietti. "If we attempted to do that we could have some very serious results."

Orazietti did say the province could do more to limit the use of segregation.

'Loss of all privileges' to be eliminated

Changes that will take effect immediately include:

  • The maximum length of disciplinary segregation will be capped at 15 consecutive days, reduced from the current maximum of 30 consecutive days.
  • A weekly segregation review committee at each institution will conduct case reviews of all inmates in segregation.
  • The "loss of all privileges" in disciplinary segregation will be eliminated. Instead, jails will move towards "alternative sanctions" and "increased incentives for inmates to maintain good behaviour."

Orazietti said the 15-day limit sends a signal that correctional facilities need to do a better job of identifying and supporting people having difficulties. 

"That, I understand, obviously will require an investment, and will require some change in the thinking or thought process around the delivery of correctional services in the province," he said.

'Everything is on the table'

The province will also appoint an independent external reviewer to look at the use of solitary confinement in Ontario's adult correctional facilities.

Orazietti said the review will look at more than just segregation.

"This will be an opportunity for us to have a very in-depth analysis of the specific areas within the correctional division that we need to invest in, and whether that be staff or programs or infrastructure, everything is on the table," he said.

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube's submission earlier this year said his office had received 557 complaints about segregation in provincial correctional facilities in the past three years, and found one case where an inmate was in segregation for more than three years.

The ombudsman says the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services doesn't routinely keep track of how many inmates are in segregation, but it recently found that the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., had 1,677 segregation admissions over five-month period last year.

The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., had 1,677 segregation admissions over five months last year, according to Ontario's ombudsman. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

With files from the Canadian Press