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At least 54 inmates held past release date in Ontario jails in 2023, documents show

At least 54 inmates stayed in Ontario-run jails longer than they were supposed to last year, CBC Hamilton has learned.

Records obtained by CBC through a freedom-of-information request show the number of inmates held past their release date from early October 2022 to August 2023.

The records show 17 inmates were improperly detained at the Toronto South Detention Centre, nine inmates at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex and six at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre. Thirteen other jails in Ontario saw this happen to three inmates or fewer.

Reports related to the improper detentions at the Toronto South Detention Centre were heavily censored with white redactions, obscuring how much information there is in each report, as well as details like why and how long people were detained for.

But some reports indicate administrative errors between the courts and the jails caused some of the prolonged detentions. For example, jail staff say they didn’t receive documents from court staff.

In at least one other case, an inmate informed staff he was supposed to be released.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General declined an interview but told CBC Hamilton “overdue releases account for less than 0.2 per cent of all releases and the ministry conducts investigations to determine the cause and if any process changes are needed.”

While the mistakes seem to be rare, given Ontario’s total inmate population was 33,571 in the 2022 fiscal year, some experts, lawyers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the province needs to investigate why this is happening and invest in the system to put a stop to it.

“Any time somebody is detained past their release date, it’s not acceptable,” said Asgar Manek, a defence lawyer in Hamilton who has had a client who was improperly detained.

Lawyer says inmates may be entitled to remedies

Manek said he previously had a client who stayed in jail for a few days past his release date due to a clerical error.

Howard Sapers, former federal correctional investigator and former Ontario independent advisor on correctional reform, said communication gaps between departments, staffing shortages caused by stretched budgets, and a lack of oversight are all factors that lead to these errors.

“Problems like this happen again and again because people simply aren’t paying enough attention,” he said, adding that most inmates in provincial jails haven’t been found guilty of the charges they face.

Manek said in his experience, a lack of local judges, the timing of when documents are sent and the timing of release orders can also lead to overdue releases.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre improperly detained six inmates between early October 2022 and August 2023. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Kelly Hannah-Moffat, a professor at University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, said while 54 may not be a lot compared to the entire inmate population in the provincial system, it is still serious.

“I don’t think it diminishes the effect on the individual,” she said.

Stephanie DiGiuseppe, a partner at Henein Hutchison Robitaille LLP and assistant treasurer of the Criminal Lawyers Association, which represents criminal defence lawyers across Ontario, said the number of improper detentions is “inexcusable” and “shocking.”

“It’s a very simple task to execute,” she said. “Every day in custody is the loss of a day of a person’s liberty and ability to pursue their livelihood.”

DiGiuseppe said she thinks inmates may be entitled to remedies for having their rights breached.

Experts say province needs to take action

Hannah-Moffat said there should be more information about why the improper detentions occurred.

Some documents CBC obtained were redacted in white, a practice the Information Commissioner of Canada has previously ruled shouldn’t occur.

Hannah-Moffat said there should also be audits of the administrative system and each improper detention because the circumstances “raises questions about the ways records are kept.”

She said another solution could be the province jailing fewer people, given most inmates in the provincial system serve short sentences.

Sapers and Manek said the province needs to invest more money into the court and correctional systems.

That would include hiring more court and jail staff, improving their pay and technology upgrades. Manek also said there should be more local judges.

All the experts interviewed agreed the province needs to take immediate action to prevent more inmates being held past their release dates, like an audit or investigation.

“There has to be direct intervention by the solicitor general to examine why that is occurring … there has to be a publicly available explanation and action taken,” Shakir Rahim, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s criminal justice program, said.

“Even one inmate being held past their release date is one too many.”

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