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A security guard walks outside of the Toronto South Detention Centre, in an Aug. 27, 2015, file photo.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

A judge has given an armed trafficker in fentanyl a two-year sentence reduction because of repeated lockdowns caused by staff shortages at a Toronto detention centre, saying the province has been ignoring the problem.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Andras Schreck said inhumane conditions faced by trafficker Jeffrey Persad and other inmates at the Toronto South Detention Centre should be deemed “deliberate state misconduct.” To make his point, he cited 14 other cases since 2015 in which judges have condemned lockdowns at the jail, which can leave inmates in small, shared cells for days without showers or exercise.

“It is, to use their words, unacceptable, shocking, deplorable, harsh, oppressive, degrading, disheartening, appalling, Dickensian, regressive and inexcusable,” Justice Schreck said in a written ruling released last week.

He began his ruling by quoting from the autobiography of late South African president and former prisoner Nelson Mandela: “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails." The judge said the Ontario government has chosen to “save money” rather than heed the judiciary’s calls for humane treatment.

“In my view, we have reached the point where the inhumane conditions at the TSDC go beyond being an unfortunate circumstance and can more properly be described as essentially a form of deliberate state misconduct.”

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who oversees the province’s correctional institutions, declined The Globe and Mail’s request for an interview.

A spokeswoman for her department said in a statement that since 2018 the government has trained about 900 new correctional officers; of those, more than 200 have been hired at the Toronto South Detention Centre.

“The ministry’s priority is to ensure safety and security at our correctional institutions. For the protection of inmates and staff, institutions may have to implement lockdowns," spokeswoman Kristy Denette said. "The government has been clear in its commitment to supporting correctional services across this province.”

Of the 1,010 days Mr. Persad spent in pretrial custody before pleading guilty to gun offences and possession of fentanyl and cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, 47 per cent were under lockdown, Justice Schreck’s ruling says. Judges across Canada usually give 1½ days of credit for each day served in pretrial custody to reflect the rate of reductions inmates would usually qualify for once they are sentenced.

Lawyers for the prosecution and defence agreed that Mr. Persad deserved a nine-year sentence. And even the prosecution said he deserved extra credit for his 475 days in lockdown. Justice Schreck decided to give him three days of credit for each of those days – somewhat less than an Alberta judge gave last year in the case of Adam Prystay, who received credit of 3.75 days for each of the 400 days spent in solitary confinement at the Edmonton Remand Centre. In other Ontario cases, the extra credit has tended to be a half-day or a full day.

Justice Schreck said the additional credit he was giving was “intended to communicate this court’s affirmation of our community’s most basic values,” in light of the government ignoring the previous judicial condemnations of regular lockdowns.

A security officer at the detention centre testified it has staff of 800 to 1,000 but could use 500 more.

Mr. Persad has a criminal record for firearm and drug offences dating back to 2001.

His lawyer, Richard Mwangi, said in an interview that his client was subjected to “harsh and unjustifiable conditions, but his case is just one of many – it’s a systemic issue” that goes beyond the court’s ability to correct.​

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