Highlights of the report by the Correctional Ombudsman of Québec
Québec City, September 17, 2015 – This year, in its capacity as Québec’s Correctional Ombudsman, the Québec Ombudsman once more noted problems with prison overcrowding and the many resulting transfers.
The Correctional Ombudsman’s annual report also covers the deficient access to healthcare, especially care for mental disorders, including follow-up on medication.
It also deals with the isolation of suicidal inmates, abusive use of means of constraint and failings in sanitary conditions and cleanliness in several correctional facilities.
Repercussions of the high transfer rate
The transfer of detainees from one facility to another is one of the means used by correctional services to handle the effects of prison overcrowding. The growing number of transfers—some 31,500 in 2014-2015—takes a heavy toll on the citizens concerned, especially in terms of follow-up regarding medication and provision of guidance and supervision with a view to detainees’ social reintegration. In addition to the human cost involved, transfers come with hefty financial costs.
Deficient access to healthcare
In a special report published in 2011, the Québec Ombudsman spoke out against the flaws in the care provided to detainees with mental disorders. Four years later, it sees no perceivable improvement.
The following situations continue to be frequent:
- medical information on detainees is sadly insufficient and is not sought at admission;
- no psychological assistance or psychiatric follow-up is offered;
- there is no pharmacological continuity when detainees are transferred from one facility to another;
- for lack of specialized resources, suicidal detainees are kept in isolation for extended periods of time.
Given these situations, the Québec Ombudsman is highly critical of the lack of advances and reiterates that responsibility for care must be transferred to the health and social services network since it, and not the Ministère de la Sécurité publique, is qualified in these matters.
Isolation of suicidal inmates: a last resort
Isolation of suicidal detainees is a last resort to be used only in cases of extreme crisis or imminent risk of suicide. Its purpose being to protect the person from himself or herself, it must be limited to the duration of the episode.
The Québec Ombudsman has seen that several days can go by without mental health specialists or the suicide intervention team reassessing the condition of suicidal detainees in isolation. People isolated for suicidal reasons must be seen at least once a day to determine their condition and to decide whether isolation should be lifted.
Abusive use of means of restraint
Complaints to the Québec Ombudsman showed that the use of certain means of restraint (handcuffs and legcuffs) was abusive. Further to the Québec Ombudsman’s intervention, the Department pledged to bring a new instruction on the standards for the use of restraints into effect in 2015-2016.
Failings in sanitary conditions and cleanliness in correctional facilities
When it visited certain correctional facilities, Québec Ombudsman noted deficient sanitary conditions. The cleanliness of isolation or solitary confinement cells, intended for sick or suicidal inmates or inmates displaying disorganization, was inadequate and often the cells were in a sorry state of disrepair. It asked the facilities concerned to immediately tighten their measures regarding hygiene, which they agreed to do.
Guarantee the procedural fairness of the disciplinary process for detainees
After analyzing comparable normative frameworks, the Québec Ombudsman noted that the disciplinary process in Québec’s correctional facilities is inconsistent in terms of rules as well as their enforcement. In a report to the Ministère de la Sécurité publique, it made 15 recommendations aimed at improving the process.
The Québec Ombudsman deplores that, even though civil protection is at the heart of the mission of correctional services, detainees have been released by mistake and there have been escapes that could have been prevented. These deficiencies clearly pointed to the importance not only of clear instructions, but also of effective means of control.
Carole-Anne Huot, 418-646-7143/418-925-7994