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Ombudsman cracks down on excessive force in correctional institutions

June 14, 2013

On June 11, the Ontario Ombudsman released his report condemning the use of excessive force in the province’s correctional institutes. While prison guards have the right to use physical force to manage inmates, such force should only be used appropriately and only to the degree necessary to gain control. The use of excessive force, the use of force with the intent to cause harm, or the continued use of force beyond what is required to gain control of a situation is not acceptable.

Mr Marin’s investigation and subsequent report found that not only was excessive force being used against inmates, the incidents were either ignored or covered up. In the Ombudsman’s report titled, “the Code”, Mr. Marin makes recommendations to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to “crack the code of silence” and stop the use of unreasonable force by correctional staff.

A number of recommendations pertain specifically to incarcerated people experiencing a mental illness. The report estimates that in 2011/2012, approximately 14,000 people with a mental health challenge entered the penal system. Due to their mental illness, their behaviours provoked tension and physical confrontation with other inmates and prison staff, culminating in the use of unreasonable force, punitive treatment and abuse.

To address this, the Ombudsman made a number of priority recommendations focusing on the need to train new and existing correctional staff in:

  • Identifying the needs of inmates with a mental illness,
  • Use of health care personnel when an inmate is identified with a mental illness,
  • De-escalation techniques,
  • Alternatives to use of force, and
  • Use of Force policy

In all, there are 45 recommendations in the report relating to the use of excessive force and cover up by staff, and the “dysfunctional correctional culture and the code of silence.”

You can read the full report, “The Code: Investigation into the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ response to allegations of excessive use of force against inmates” on the Ombudsman Ontario website.

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