Segregation limits, bail reform among 42 recommendations by Ottawa jail task force

Changes to how the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre segregates inmates, as well as its health care services and the judicial bail process, are among the 42 recommendations contained in a report by a special task force and made public today.

Poll of OCDC inmates finds 80 per cent of them spent time 'in the hole'

An inmate heads back to the Ottawa jail after making an appearance at the courthouse in Perth, Ont., last month. A special task force is recommending changes to the bail system to address overcrowding. (CBC)

Changes to how the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre segregates inmates, as well as its health care services and the bail process, are among the 42 recommendations contained in a report by a special task force and made public today.

Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi appointed a special 13-member task force in April following reports of overcrowded conditions at the jail, leading to double and triple bunking as well as inmates being housed in showers.

That same month two men died at the jail, including one suicide.

Naqvi announced the task force would have "a mandate to develop an action plan to address overcrowding and capacity issues in the near term, and identify long-term solutions to improve the health and safety of staff and inmates at OCDC overall."

Read the full report here.

Among the recommendations: 

  • Move prisoners: Inmates at OCDC sentenced to more than 30 days should be moved to other institutions that provide access to more programs, treatment and rehabilitation options.
  • Bail beds: Government agencies should work together to review the feasibility of funding bail beds (residential bail programs outside OCDC).
  • Bail reform: Examine the possibility of allowing police officers an option to release offenders on some categories of arrests.
  • Diversion programs: Increase the availability of pre- and post-charge diversion programs for those suffering from addictions and mental illness.
  • Health care: Transfer health care services form the corrections ministry to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, as is done in Nova Scotia.
  • Health care review: Conduct a comprehensive review of health care services at the jail to see whether they meet the needs of the inmate population.
  • Mental health training: Review and enhance the mental health curriculum for correctional officers.

The report also includes a mechanism for the ministry to report back to the minister on the progress of change on a quarterly basis, with the first report due Oct. 30.

"My intention, very much, is to address every single one of those recommendations, be transparent and accountable about it — and I think that's a big difference this time — report on it on a quarterly basis, so that we can track the implementation for the analysis or actual action as outlined in these recommendations," Naqvi told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.

Among the immediate steps being taken, Naqvi said, is the assignment of two Crown attorneys to examine the detention, custody and bail process of inmates early on in their incarceration.

"Can we deal with those issues at an early on stage in the process, as opposed to [having people] waiting at OCDC in remand, waiting for that decision to come?" Naqvi asked rhetorically.

Naqvi also committed to immediately examine the possibility of sending OCDC inmates who serve sentences longer than 30 days to other institutions that have more space and better programs.

Listen to the full interview with Naqvi here.

Inmate questionnaire contributed to report

The report includes the results of a questionnaire filled out by 130 inmates, which contributed to the recommendations made public Wednesday. 

Among the survey's findings:

  • 79 per cent reported spending time in segregation, and 30 per cent of them requested it.
  • 66 per cent felt they needed more and better health care services, including more access to prescriptions, mental health care and addiction services.
  • 53 per cent wanted changes to bail and the remand system to address overcrowding. 

Head counts up 24 per cent in a decade

The report includes an analysis of overcrowding trends over the last decade, from 2005-06 to 2014-15. It found a 24-per-cent increase in the jail's daily head counts, with those awaiting trial consistently making up the majority of inmates compared to those serving sentences.

Tracking those institutional trends in the future is one of 42 recommendations which fall under categories such as conditions of confinement, capital improvements and reintegration into the community. 

Some of the recommendations in the 24-page report wander outside the purview of the correctional ministry, including suggestions for changes to bail and parole processes, as well as the call for a transfer of health care services to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Where applicable, the corrections ministry is working closely with other ministries such as the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Reports pile up

There have already been a number of reports and recommendations looking into the Ottawa jail specifically, as well as Ontario's jail system more generally.

In March 2015, as part of the settlement in the human rights case examining Christina Jahn's six months in segregation at OCDC, the province agreed to implement changes over 18 months to improve the plight of prisoners with mental health issues, including screening, treatment plans and training for staff.

On Oct. 27, 2015, the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre Community Advisory Board — appointed provincially — released a scathing report on jail conditions, suggesting 22 recommendations highlighting problems of overcrowding, inadequate food and untrained guards working with inmates with mental health issues.

On May 10 this year, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé released a report called "Segregation, Not an Isolated Problem" based on 557 complaints from prisoners and their families over three years. He made 28 recommendations on limiting segregation and protecting prisoners with mental health problems.

Consultation done, Naqvi says

Naqvi admitted Wednesday that conditions have deteriorated, but said the consultation process is over and it's time for action.

"Over time, things have [slid] down. A big reason has been that we just have too many people in our system. Mental health issues are a big factor as well," Naqvi said.

"I think the consultation part is done. We need to start implementing action. Of course a lot of these recommendations will require further analysis, will require new dollars as well, so I cannot be fair ... and just make a commitment, because I don't think that would be prudent. But the commitment I'm making is that this report will just not go on a bookshelf somewhere.

"This report will see real action."