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The Ontario ombudsman has opened an investigation into how the province tracks and reviews the placement of inmates in solitary confinement in its jails.The Globe and Mail

Ontario's Ombudsman has launched an investigation into the way the province tracks and reviews the placement of prisoners in solitary confinement.

The review will examine how the system logs segregated prisoners and counts the amount of time they have spent in isolation in provincial jails. It will also look at the effectiveness of the review systems intended to scrutinize segregation placements.

Ombudsman Paul Dubé said that the investigation was prompted in part by the details that have emerged in the case of Adam Capay, who has been kept in solitary confinement in Thunder Bay for more than four years.

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"As soon as we heard about Mr. Capay's situation, the Ombudsman dispatched two investigators to see him, and upon their return, we began preparing an investigative plan," said Linda Williamson, director of communications in the Ombudsman's office.

Another factor that led the Ombudsman to act was a spike in complaints about segregation. Since April 1, his office has received 175 complaints related to solitary confinement, on track to far surpass the previous high of 186 such complaints in the preceding fiscal year.

A Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year found significant disparities in the way Canada's provincial, territorial and federal prison systems track the length of time inmates spend in solitary confinement. Ontario, for example, was unable to provide detailed figures on how many prisoners had spent longer than 15 days in solitary over the past five years, the limit prescribed by the UN's Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners. The lack of such data makes it very difficult to assess how often and for how long solitary is being used.

In a submission to the provincial government in May, Mr. Dubé called for an outright ban on long-term solitary confinement, recommending that Ontario adhere to 15-day limits.

Mr. Dubé also said that his office had alerted Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services several times in recent years that its jails were "not meeting their legal requirements to review and document segregation placements."

Former federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers was recently appointed by the Ontario government to review the practice of segregation, as well as the operation of the correctional system as a whole. Mr. Dubé said his probe would not conflict with that work.