Sentences reduced for kidnappers, shooters and drug traffickers due to conditions at Toronto’s ‘Guantanamo South’

Dozens of criminals convicted of knife attacks, shootings, drug trafficking and child pornography are among those receiving lighter sentences and sent back to the streets sooner after a showdown between Ontario judges and the provincial government over the notorious conditions in a Toronto prison called “Guantanamo.” South.”

In the past year, records show that at least 24 offenders have had their time in custody reduced due to repeated lockdowns, pest infestations and other mistreatment at Toronto’s South Detention Centre, located near Kipling Avenue and Gardiner Expressway in Etobicoke, as the judges point out. extra credit for time served in inhumane conditions, while critics say the Ontario government is ignoring the problem.

“I’d like to say it’s unusual, but unfortunately it’s all too common,” said Toronto lawyer Christian Pearce, whose client Yanique Ellison received a six-month deduction after pleading guilty to manslaughter: he provided a COVID-19 mask as a disguise another man who shot and killed a bar patron after a dispute.

Ellison was housed in triple bunks in a cell designed for two people and spent nearly a year of his time behind bars awaiting trial in lockup, where inmates “have no privacy and are forced to urinate and defecate in front of their cellmates.” The judge said his case was resolved in December, sentencing him to 7.5 years instead of eight to reflect “exceptionally harsh conditions.”

The provincially run jail holds pre-trial inmates and inmates who have been sentenced to less than two years in prison.

While the jail used lockdowns as a way to deal with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, judges also identified the cause of many of the lockdowns as persistent staffing shortages. That problem predates the pandemic and persists today in ways that will make the public less safe when inmates are released, Pearce said.

“These guys are not being rehabilitated in any way, which makes them worse, makes them angrier, there’s no access to programming and it’s not about justice it’s about punishment,” Pearce said.

In one case, a man convicted of gun crimes gave evidence that cells were infested with ants, cockroaches and spiders, and that inmates were not given clean clothing. His sentence was reduced by 60 days. Another who was convicted of kidnapping showed photographs taken by a prison officer of mice and silverfish, which the judge took into account.

In another case, Madhi Afrah pleaded guilty to participating in a shooting in a parking lot and wounding another man. While awaiting trial at Toronto South Detention Centre, he severed the tendons in his finger on a stool; The judge in his case noted that a nurse ignored him and the next day he was sent to surgery and his finger became infected. He was also fed seafood even though he suffered from a severe allergy.

“In fact, the defendant has suffered while in prison, beyond what is acceptable in a society that prides itself on a correctional system that assumes a duty of care to inmates. The combination of his hand injury along with his confinements deserves a significant mitigation of sentence,” Judge Maylor wrote.

In another case in which a man brought a gun to a shooting and found himself facing repeated confinements, Judge J. Himel gave just over six months of credit.

“The credit is warranted to be quantified to demonstrate the court’s condemnation of these conditions,” Himel wrote.

In another case, Marc Owusu-Boamah was convicted of kidnapping an Etobicoke man and was among those who repeatedly beat and tortured him with hot liquid, causing second-degree burns and permanent scarring before abandoning him on the street.

Judge R. Maxwell would have imposed an 11-year sentence, but noted “exceptionally harsh” conditions, including lockdowns at the Toronto South Detention Centre, and reduced it to 10 years.

“I agree with the position expressed by many judges … that confinements arising from staff shortages, and even those arising for security reasons, should not be viewed simply as the price that detainees must pay,” he wrote Judge.

NDP justice critic Kristyn Wong-Tam said in an interview that the jail is one of several parts of Ontario’s justice system that are not functioning properly due to a lack of funding and staff shortages, and judges have have to deal with it when sentencing.

“Overcrowding in detention centers leads to more conflict, illness and burnout for already overworked staff,” they said.

“When there is no staff, they are forced to lock these individuals in cells and the conditions are not humane. A judge has to consider all that. And they can’t properly sentence individuals,” Wong-Tam said.

The provincial government did not provide information on the number of staff at the Toronto South Detention Centre, but said in a statement that since July 2020, more than 2,000 new correctional officers have graduated and been deployed to correctional institutions across the province, including 434 at the Toronto South Detention Centre. Detention center.

The government is spending $500 million over five years to modernize the institution and hire staff, spokesman Greg Flood said.

“New construction and infrastructure improvements will help alleviate capacity pressures and create additional space for improved programming and community reintegration support and will also support the delivery of mental health services, inmate programming, and correctional officer training,” Flood said.

Many of the judges who reduced sentences in the previous cases are applying a precedent in a case called R v. Marshall, who says they can consider harsh conditions when sentencing, but they can’t end up with a sentence that isn’t appropriate for the crime.

In some cases reviewed by CTV News, judges refused to apply the credit directly, saying it was only a mitigating factor in the sentence.

Judges have complained about conditions at the jail since at least 2020, when Judge Andras Schreck called them “unacceptable, outrageously deplorable, harsh, oppressive, degrading, discouraging, appalling, Dickensian, regressive and inexcusable.”

In his sentencing he quoted former South African president and former prisoner Nelson Mandela, who said: “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its prisons.”

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