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Sentencing ruling sends 'clear message' on lockdowns: Igbokwe

A sentencing ruling in favour of one of her clients sends a clear message that the use of lockdowns during pretrial custody is a problem that needs addressing, says Toronto criminal lawyer Gina Igbokwe.

The CBC reports that Igbokwe’s client was sentenced to time served after Justice Katrina Mulligan, of the Ontario Court of Justice, ruled he was subjected to “unduly harsh custodial conditions” at Toronto South Detention Centre (TSDC).

“The hope is that correctional facilities will take more steps to ensure that the use of lockdowns are being minimized and address staffing levels and other issues underlying their use,” Igbokwe, an associate with Hicks Adams LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Justice Mulligan’s ruling recognized that the lockdowns and questionable medical treatment received by (my client) made his time in pretrial custody unduly harsh. As a result, she gave him additional credit for his time served beyond the standard allowance,” she says.

“In doing so she is upholding the principle that there is a standard of treatment to be met for prisoners. The message is that when individuals are subject to harsher conditions than they should be this will become a mitigating factor in their sentence.”

The prisoner served more than 200 days in custody at the TSDC. The Crown recommended he spend 217 more after being caught selling a small amount of heroin to undercover Toronto police officers. However, Mulligan characterized his time in pretrial custody as “qualitatively oppressive and physically detrimental.”

Of the 38 times the man was locked down, 15 lasted longer than 24 hours, the CBC reports. In an affidavit obtained by the public broadcaster, the man says that following an injury in 1999 he was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine. He adds that adequate medication for the condition was withheld during his time in jail and that he experienced pain, dizziness and sleeplessness.

"My level of pain was unbearable," his affidavit states.

In her decision, the judge writes the man received "questionable" medical treatment at the detention facility and "suffered more than others would or should."

Igbokwe says the Canadian criminal justice system operates in a framework that includes Charter and human rights. These “don’t just disappear” because an individual has been charged and detained in pretrial custody, she adds.

“While in custody individuals do have restrictions on certain liberties but they don’t vanish altogether. As a society we hold ourselves to a certain standard.  For example, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners provides that every prisoner should have at least one hour daily of suitable exercise in the open air,” she says.

“By giving additional credit for time spent on lockdown, judges are recognizing that today’s detention centres are failing to meet minimum standards established by the United Nations in the 1950s. The bottom line is standards of treatment exist even in the face of restrictions on liberties.”

In an email to the CBC, a spokesperson for the province writes there are "sufficient staff to run the institution in a safe and secure manner and new staff are added on a regular basis."

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