The Court of Appeal for Ontario on Wednesday affirmed the damages award of $30 million in a class action lawsuit against Ontario for mistreatment of inmates in solitary confinement, finding that the administrative segregation was negligent and in violation of inmates’ constitutional rights.
The use of administrative segregation in correctional facilities in Ontario constitutes solitary confinement. Inmates are isolated for at least 22 hours in a small cell that often is “filthy and covered in bodily fluids.” Correctional facilities place inmates in administrative segregation for a variety of reasons, including safety or if the inmate committed a serious breach of the rules.
Mentally ill inmates are overrepresented among those who are placed in administrative segregation. Approximately 43 percent of inmates who are placed in administrative segregation have a mental health alert on file. The length of time these inmates are subjected to administrative segregation is, on average, 30 percent longer than other inmates.
This class action separates inmates who were placed in administrative segregation into two groups: (1) those who have a mental illness; and (2) those who were isolated for at least 15 days.
Conrey Francis commenced this proceeding as a class action in 2017. Francis was an inmate at Toronto South Detention Centre for over two years before he was acquitted of charges related to a bank robbery. Francis suffers from mental illness. During his two years at the correctional facility, he was subjected to administrative segregation twice, once for eight days, for allegedly refusing to take medication because of negative side effects. The correctional officers viewed this refusal to take medication as a refusal to follow an order.
Francis’ “experience in administrative segregation was excruciating; his anxiety was out of control; he felt terrorized and was in a state of delirium and shock.”
Ontario challenged the prior finding that administrative segregation is negligent and in violation of inmates’ rights. Ontario also argued that because the claims of negligence applied to a policy decision, it is immune to claims of negligence. The court dismissed these arguments.
The Court of Appeal asserted that “Ontario cannot turn a blind eye to overwhelming evidence of the unconstitutionality of its actions.”