The government of Ontario must address some serious problems in our corrections system.
A recent report by the Independent Advisor on Corrections Reform (IACR) described shocking abuses and disorder in Ontario’s detention centres.
Sadly, some of the findings highlight problems that were already old, but haven’t been addressed yet.
Detention centres are crowded and cellblock violence is a huge problem. After violent incidents, inmates are often held in solitary confinement without access to rehabilitation programs.
A newly released surveillance video from the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London shows how bad the violence can be. In that video an inmate can be seen beating his cellmate to death. A staffing shortage prevented the kind of intervention that might have stopped the altercation.
Assaults on correctional officers and other staff have more than doubled over the past seven years.
Too many inmates are now held in solitary confinement — often in appalling conditions, and sometimes for years.
On the current government’s watch, prisoners like Adam Capay, have been held in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. Capay was held for four years in degrading conditions. In fact previous inmates held in the same cell died. Repeated coroner’s inquests warned of unsafe conditions, but they were ignored.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is now taking the government to court over such terrible abuses.
Much of the violence in Ontario’s detention centres is connected with smuggled weapons and drugs. Full-body scanners would do a lot to keep those things out of detention centres, but most Ontario jails don’t yet have scanners. A year ago, the government promised to install body scanners in all Ontario’s prisons. We’re still waiting.
But it gets worse.
Ontario’s probation and parole system is a joke.
Often the only contact between a criminal and a probation officer happens when the offender visits the probation office. After the offender leaves, there is little to no followup.
Our probation and parole officers are not to blame. In many cases, they are actively discouraged from making house visits because of insufficient resources. Many are told that they are not allowed to work outside business hours.
But guidelines published by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services explicitly state that community visits are a valuable method of verifying information and enhancing supervision. And yet, they’re not happening. Offenders are often left to self-report, but few do so.
A 2014 report of the Ontario Auditor-General drew attention to this problem, and a shocking Global News documentary on corrections earlier this year came to the same conclusions. But we are still waiting for the government to do something.
One of the most basic duties of a government is to maintain an orderly and safe society. But if detention centres are inhumane and criminals on parole or probation are not being properly supervised, a government has failed to perform that duty.
The government must start by addressing the increasing violence in detention centres. Instead of solitary confinement, different forms of penalties for assaults should be explored.
Crowded jails can be combatted by reducing excessive wait times for corrections investigations, and by providing the resources necessary for more staff in detention centres.
Proper supervision and enforcement of probation and parole orders is absolutely essential.
The recent IACR report paints a grim picture. Minor tinkering isn’t going to fix the crisis in corrections. The government must take serious and thorough action immediately.