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Pre-trial lockdowns now a factor in sentencing, says Handlarski

Time spent in lockdowns at an Ontario detention centre is rightfully becoming a significant factor in sentencing, Toronto criminal lawyer Ryan Handlarski tells the CBC.

Handlarski, principal of RH Criminal Defence, made the comments following a written decision by Justice Katrina Mulligan in the sentencing of a drug dealer caught selling heroin to an undercover police officer, the CBC reports.

The Ontario judge pointed to "unduly harsh custodial conditions" at the Toronto South Detention Centre (TSDC) in deciding against imposing additional jail time for the heroin dealer, who was in custody for slightly more than 200 days awaiting trial. During that period he was on lockdown 38 times, the CBC says, citing a letter filed in court from a TSDC security manager.

Handlarski tells the CBC that a judge recently granted one of his clients facing drug charges an extra four months credit toward his sentence. The judge cited TSDC lockdowns, caused primarily by staffing shortages, as the reason, he says.

"Judges are sending a message, I think, that you're going to get significant credit … because this is a bad situation," Handlarski tells the CBC.

"We can't just turn a blind eye to it."

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."

However, Monte Vieselmeyer, chairman of the corrections division for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, tells the CBC, the Toronto South jail continues to be short-staffed.

“I would say we're probably now ... a good 50 to 100 full-time staff behind where we need to be," he says. 
Handlarski tells that his most recent application to a judge for credit toward sentencing indicates the situation at the detention centre is improving.
“Time will tell. I have no way of knowing until I get a case and subpoena the records in the future. I can tell you that this year I subpoenaed the records of Toronto South and saw all sorts of lockdowns for staffing issues during 2017. It was chronic in 2017. In 2018, it was still present but significantly less. So they may very well have fixed the staffing issue.” 
However, Handlarski says the larger issue of locking prisoners down remains a significant problem.
"It was really interesting for me to do this process and sit down with my client and ask him what it was it like to be on lockdown. He started to say things that to me were really shocking just because I’d never thought of them," Handlarski says.
"He said, 'I spent up to five days locked in my cell, and I spent that time without a shower and without a phone call to a loved one. And the thing that really bothered me, because hygiene is so important to me, is that for five days I had to (go to the bathroom) where I eat.’"
Handlarski says Corrections Canada must be more judicious in the way it uses lockdowns.
"The easiest way to run a jail is to lock them down in their cages. Just imagine how easy it is. You don’t have to do anything. The Corrections officer sits in his office, drinks coffee, and checks his phone while the inmates are all in their cells 24 hours a day. It’s easy. But it’s bad policy.”

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