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Ontario Corrections Minister David Orazietti says he has spoken with Premier Kathleen Wynne about the need for more funding to address solitary confinement problems.DanHenson1/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ontario's Corrections Minister has appealed to the Premier for new prison spending and dispatched a 25-member team to examine conditions in segregation cells across the province as part of a response to revelations about the use of solitary confinement in provincial institutions.

David Orazietti divulged the new steps during a sit-down interview that came on the heels of a series of Globe and Mail articles focusing on the plight of a young aboriginal inmate at Thunder Bay Jail. Adam Capay, 24, has spent over four years in solitary confinement awaiting trial, much of it inside an acrylic-glass-lined cell with 24-hour artificial light.

A continuing Globe investigation has found that conditions in the cell played a direct role in the death of a previous inmate and that the province had ignored multiple warnings from prison staff and coroner's inquests about the deadly confines.

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Mr. Orazietti, who was appointed to the corrections portfolio in June, said he had no knowledge of the cell conditions until the Capay story came to light last month. "Those conditions are completely unacceptable in this day and age in the Province of Ontario," he told The Globe, his most pointed comments yet on the story that has roiled his ministry. "That is something that should never occur again."

Since learning of Mr. Capay's situation, he has spoken directly to Premier Kathleen Wynne about the need for new money for the province's overcrowded and understaffed prisons.

"I have had a number of conversations with the Premier about the investments that need to be made in the correctional division if we are going to tackle the challenges around the over-reliance on segregation," he said.

Those discussions have included requests for new infrastructure, he said, and that Thunder Bay is an "extremely high priority."

Ministry staff are now conducting a "capital infrastructure analysis" to prioritize which prisons need updating the most.

The need for new spending extends to hiring as well – more correctional officers, more social services workers and more nurses, he said.

News of Mr. Capay's circumstances came to light on Oct. 18, when Ontario's human rights commissioner told reporters of her encounter with the inmate, who said his memory and speech had declined as a result of his lengthy spell in solitary.

It took the minister two weeks to confirm that no other inmate in the province was being subjected to conditions similar to those Mr. Capay endured. Mr. Orazietti has since engaged a team to check up on segregated inmates across the province.

"They'll be working to provide information to us on the status of individuals in segregation," he said. "I want to make sure there are no cells in Ontario where lights are not being dimmed. That needs to be stopped immediately. I have every assurance that is the case."

The minister said there are currently "under 20" inmates in Ontario whose elapsed time in solitary confinement tops one year.

That's well above the 15-day maximum guideline set out by the United Nations General Assembly's Mandela Rules. Outgoing federal Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers has said the cap in Canada should be 30 consecutive days – with an absolute prohibition on the segregation of inmates with serious mental health issues.

Starting in January, Mr. Sapers will head up an external review of Ontario's segregation policies, setting up a serious test of the province's willingness for reform.

"It's unlikely we can follow through on everything Mr. Sapers recommends today," Mr. Orazietti said. "But we are fully committed to implementing all the recommendations he brings back to improve the correctional system in Ontario. It will take resources and those are things I'm very actively advocating for inside our government."

In the last month, more than 60,000 people have signed petitions calling for Mr. Capay's release from segregation. Current and former staff at Thunder Bay Jail have told The Globe that transferring Mr. Capay from solitary confinement is impossible given the limited range of living options at the facility and the violent allegations against him. He stands accused of stabbing a fellow inmate to death in 2012.

The minister refused to go into detail about Mr. Capay's case, citing privacy legislation, saying only that some segregated inmates cannot live in general population units out of safety concerns for staff and other inmates. He added, however, that no inmates deserve the conditions Mr. Capay experienced, regardless of how repugnant their criminal history might be.

"Being segregated from the general population should not mean that an individual does not have access to nursing care or social work or education programs or canteen or phone or TV or any of these other services," he said.

The minister is also calling for a culture change among correctional staff, which could prove to be his most challenging proposal of all. The provincial corrections union recently went through a bruising round of collective bargaining with Queen's Park that created a lasting animus among its membership.

Last month, when Mr. Orazietti announced a series of interim measures intended to reform segregation, including lowering the maximum number of days an inmate can spend in disciplinary segregation, many correctional officers reacted on Twitter with indignation.

Mr. Orazietti is confident the resistance will dissolve once new resources come online.

"There are deep-rooted systemic challenges to addressing change in the correctional system," he said. "But I believe we are turning the corner on modernizing and reforming the correctional system in Ontario."