News

SEGREGATION

Inmate advocate hails Ontario review of inmate segregation

By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press

A just-announced provincial review of inmate segregation is a long overdue breakthrough that proves Ontario’s been doing things wrong, an inmate advocate said Thursday.

“This is what I’ve been hammering on for a long time,” said London lawyer Kevin Egan, who represents more than 100 inmates in legal action against the ­province. “This appears to be an admission they’ve been doing things wrong. I think it is a significant breakthrough.”

Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi announced Thursday his ministry is launching a comprehensive review of segregation policies inside Ontario’s 26 jails and detention centres.

“Consultations with mental health experts, civil liberty groups, correctional staff, bargaining agents and partners, as well as organizations like the ombudsman’s office and the Ontario Human Rights Commission on this review will begin this summer,” he said in a release.

“While inmates in segregation represent a small percentage of total inmate population, they often have complex and overlapping needs, which frequently includes mental health issues,’” he said.

“We are taking a hard look at our segregation policy to ensure that it is helping those inmates, and aligns with our stated goals of rehabilitation, reintegration, increased mental health supports, and improved staff and inmate safety.”

In a scrum at Queen’s Park, Naqvi said he’d like the review to be completed within a year.

Inmates, correctional officers and inmate advocates have complained for years that segregation units — set up to remove inmates who cause trouble or are in trouble on the ranges — have become overcrowded with people suffering mental health issues.

The federal corrections investigator has repeatedly pointed that segregation is one of the worst solutions for those with mental illness.

Because Ontario’s segregation cells are overcrowded, many inmates who should be kept isolated are put on general population ranges, causing trouble, correctional officers say.

“It’s like a revolving door for the inmates causing problems and fights,” said Monte Vieselmeyer, a corrections officer and corrections chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

“It has to be a fulsome review. That’s what I’ll be pushing for,” he added.

The same announcement included updates on the province’s attempt to improve mental health services behind bars in response to an Ontario Human Rights Commission settlement in 2013 over the complaint of a female inmate held in solitary confinement for seven months.

The province also released a guide for inmates on segregation and their rights.

randy.richmond@sunmedia.ca

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THE ISSUE

Aim of segregation is to protect inmates, or keep them from causing trouble

Not necessarily solitary confinement, because of overcrowding

Also used for inmates with physical and mental-health issues

5% of about 7,700 inmates in 26 institutions are in segregation