11/08/2016 13:35 EST | Updated 11/09/2017 00:12 EST

Federal corrections watchdog to lead Ontario segregation review

TORONTO — Federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers has been tapped to lead Ontario's review into the use of segregation, including exploring the possibility of ending the use of indefinite isolation.

Sapers, who will leave his federal role and become Ontario's independent adviser on corrections as of Jan. 1, has previously called for legislated caps on the time inmates spend in segregation. It's one of the issues he said he will look at in his Ontario review.

Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti recently announced several changes to the province's policies on segregation, after the government had been studying it since March. But he also decided another review is needed, which Sapers will lead.

One of Ontario's recently announced changes was to lower a 30-day cap on disciplinary segregation to 15 consecutive days, but inmates can still be held in administrative segregation — for example for safety reasons — indefinitely.

One such indefinite detention has caused public outcry and calls for change, after it was revealed that 23-year-old Adam Capay has been in isolation for 52 months at a Thunder Bay, Ont., jail.

Until recently he had been held in a Plexiglas cell with the lights on 24 hours a day, but after his case gained public attention, Capay was moved to a standard cell, with access to a day room, telephone and television, though he is still being kept apart from the general population.

There are currently 19 inmates in Ontario correctional facilities who have been in segregation for a year or longer.

Sapers will advise the government on how to reduce the number of people in segregation and limit their time there, improve conditions in segregation, make alternatives available to inmates with acute mental-health needs, and enhance oversight.

"High-quality correctional services contribute to a healthier and safer community," he said. "I believe I can help identify some of the current gaps and problems and some of the solutions to address those problems."

He praised the changes that Ontario announced recently, including a policy that segregation only be used as a last resort and under the least restrictive conditions while maintaining inmate and staff safety, as well as ensuring that while in disciplinary segregation inmates cannot have all of their privileges revoked.

The province also wants a weekly segregation review committee created at each institution to conduct case reviews of all inmates in segregation.

Sapers' mandate is far reaching, Orazietti said.

"There are no restrictions or limitations in terms of what Mr. Sapers can review or have access to," he said. "Any recommendations regarding legislative changes that could come forward following that, the government will make every effort to implement and will take obviously very seriously."

The ministry budget for the review and implementation of the recommendations is $330,000 per year for either two or three years, Orazietti said.

Sapers is to provide an interim report within 60 days of his Jan. 1 appointment, and the final report is expected in the spring.