Thunder Bay

Year-long segregation 'a regular thing' at jail where Adam Capay is held, guard says

Adam Capay, the 24-year-old First Nations man who has spent more than four years in solitary confinement, appeared in court on Monday.

10 segregation cells are 'prime real estate' for correctional officers with few options

The 10 segregation cells are constantly full at the Thunder Bay District Jail, according to a corrections officer who works there. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Inmates at the Thunder Bay District Jail regularly spend more than a year in segregation cells, according to the union representing correctional officers at the aging facility.

Conditions at the 90-year-old provincial jail are in the spotlight as Adam Capay appeared in Superior Court in Thunder Bay on Monday. Capay is the 24-year-old Lac Seul First Nation man whose four years in solitary confinement caused a media storm after Ontario's chief human rights commissioner visited him this fall.

Lawyers tentatively agreed to a trial date of March 20, 2017, for Capay's first-degree murder charge. The date will be confirmed pending the outcome of a hearing, presided over by Justice Danial Newton, on Tuesday. The nature of that hearing is subject to a publication ban.

Meanwhile, corrections officer Michael Lundy describes the segregation cells at the jail as "prime real estate." It's also a space that has "regulars" who cycle through the justice system.

"We have a couple of inmates that when they come in, we know that we have to clear out segregation space for them because we know we can't house them anywhere else," Lundy said in an interview with CBC News.

"So if they come in and their remand is eight to 10 months, they'll spend that entire time in segregation," he added. "We've had people in there for over a year. It's a regular thing for us."

Segregation, or solitary confinement, means keeping a person locked in a small cell for up to 23 hours a day with very few or no privileges. The United Nations says that more than 15 consecutive days of solitary confinement amounts to a form of torture.

Lundy, who is on the Ontario Public Service Employees Union's provincial health and safety committee, says a shortage of staff and the outdated facility are to blame for the constant use of segregation at the jail.

'We have to take them out'

There aren't enough guards to monitor the regular unit and so the 10 segregation cells, along with three "overflow" cells, are used to keep vulnerable inmates away from harm, he said.

"I don't want to use the word weaker, but not as strong-willed individuals, when we put them in general population there are times they don't eat; they don't get a mattress; they don't get access to the phone; they get their meds taken away — so we have to take them out of that area for them to survive," he said.

​Capay was sent to jail when he was 19 on minor charges. After an altercation resulted in the death of Sherman Quisses, another inmate, in 2012, Capay was charged with first-degree murder but has yet to face trial.

Dozens of Quisses's family members and friends attended court on Monday.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said in October that Capay was being moved out of his Plexiglas-lined cell to a different area, with access to a day room.

Lundy expects Capay will eventually be housed in the segregation overflow unit  "because it does have TV and it does have natural sunlight and it does have the ability to dim the lights up there."

'Lights had to stay on'

The fact that Capay was held for years under the constant glare of overhead lights is a result of correction officers following strict policies, Lundy said.

"We follow policies and rules or we're disciplined, and the rule always was that the lights had to stay on in the area for observation," he said. "They write all these policies but they were never written to house somebody for a three, four years, a year, six month, eight months."

The union is calling on the government to immediately add more staff and provide more programming at the jail, to continue retrofitting it and ultimately build a new facility.

"We've had an escape, we've had a major riot and we've had a guy segregated for four and a half years," Lundy said. "It's a result of years and years of neglect for the Ministry of Correctional Services."