Jail lock-downs receive much needed attention

Large jails such as the Toronto South Detention Centre and the Maplehurst Correctional Complex are prone to lock-downs which can span anywhere from a day, to as long as a week. During a lock-down inmates remain in their cells. They usually cannot see any visitors, including their lawyers, and have virtually no access to a phone. Meals are eaten inside the cell and exercise is not possible. There are also issues of basic hygiene, as one client told me a few months ago, he was unable to have a shower for almost six days.

Lock-downs are often attributed to staff shortages or general “incident reports”. Their effect can be significant on an accused’s ability to be informed of the progress of their case and to provide instructions to their lawyer, as many detainees are in pretrial custody.

Over the past year, TSDC in particular has found itself at the forefront of this issue, as a result of frequent lockdowns and the apparent lack of medical assistance to inmates.
Ronald Doyle, who was detained at TSDC, was on a lock-down in his cell one out of every four days in remand, from about October 2014 to July 2015.

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In addition, Doyle has Type I Diabetes and “often felt very sick” while in custody. Although, he could control his food intake to an extent, the insulin shots were the responsibility of TSDC staff. According to his evidence before the court, Mr. Doyle complained about his treatment and sought the intervention of the Ombudsman’s Office.

On September 17, Justice Melvyn Green released his decision in this matter and found that Mr. Doyle’s pretrial custody at TSDC was “extremely difficult,” and while there was no evidence of intentional mistreatment, he concluded that Mr. Doyle’s experience in pretrial custody qualified as “particularly harsh treatment,” and thus provided “a modest mitigation of the offender’s sentence.”

Mr. Doyle effectively received a reduced sentence of 22 months, with credit at 1.5 for his 11 months in pretrial custody, where the sentencing range available was between two years less a day and three years.

However “modest” the mitigation was in this case, it sheds much-needed light on an issue which is becoming quite routine in GTA jails. It also details the enormous difficulties experienced by those in pretrial custody, who often have no voice and remain out of the public’s mind.

-Alex Valova 

***Alex Valova is a Toronto-based barrister and a Brock alumni. She has partnered with BUSU and established the Student Legal Clinic.

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