Many individuals who have been convicted of offences such as knife attacks, gun violence, drug trafficking and child pornography are now receiving shorter sentences and earlier release.
This follows a clash between Ontario judges and the provincial government over deplorable conditions at a Toronto jail referred to as "Guantanamo South."
Over the past year, records indicate that at least 24 offenders had their incarceration time reduced due to frequent lockdowns, pest infestations, and other harsh treatment at the Toronto South Detention Centre in Etobicoke, near Kipling Avenue and the Gardiner Expressway.
Judges are granting additional credit for time served in these inhumane conditions, while critics argue that Ontario's government is turning a blind eye to the issue.
"I'd like to say it's unusual, but unfortunately it's all too common," said Toronto lawyer Christian Pearce, as reported by CTV News. Pearce represented Yanique Ellison, whose six-month sentence reduction, which followed a guilty plea to manslaughter, was attributed to harsh conditions in the Toronto South Detention Centre.
Ellison endured overcrowded conditions and spent nearly a year in lockdown, where lack of privacy and unsanitary conditions were noted by the judge in December.
The CTV report continued:
While the jail used lockdowns as a way to deal with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, the judges also identified the cause of many of the lockdowns as persistent staff shortages. That issue long predates the pandemic and persists today in ways that will make the public less safe when the inmates get out, Pearce said.
“These guys are not being rehabilitated in any shape or form, making them worse off, angrier, there’s no access to programming, and it becomes not about justice but about punishment,” Pearce said.
In an interview, NDP justice critic Kristyn Wong-Tam remarked that due to underfunding and staff shortages, the jail, along with various components of Ontario's justice system, is not operating effectively. Judges are compelled to address these challenges when making sentencing decisions.
The provincial government did not disclose specific staffing numbers at Toronto South Detention Centre. However, in a statement, they mentioned that since July 2020, more than 2,000 new correctional officers have graduated and been assigned to correctional institutions province-wide, with 434 deployed at the Toronto South Detention Centre.
Spokesperson Greg Flood stated that the government is investing $500 million over five years to modernize the institution and recruit additional staff.
Since at least 2020, judges have expressed dissatisfaction with the conditions in the jail. Justice Andras Schreck, at that time, characterized them as "unacceptable, shocking, deplorable, harsh, oppressive, degrading, disheartening, appalling, Dickensian, regressive, and inexcusable."