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Canada Ontario guard faces discipline for tweets about inmate in solitary confinement

A 30-year-old Ontario man suffered at least 50 injuries before dying in a provincial solitary confinement cell last December, the culmination of an hours-long confrontation with prison officers.

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An Ontario prison officer is facing disciplinary proceedings for a series of tweets about an inmate in solitary confinement that raised doubts about the province's commitment to embrace more humane segregation practices.

Chris Jackel, a correctional officer posted to the segregation unit at Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, Ont., wrote four tweets in May that described an inmate's mental-health plight and alleged managerial indifference. Now facing a possible reprimand, he says he has no regrets about calling attention to the unnamed inmate's deteriorating state of mind.

"We're entrusted to care for these people," said Mr. Jackel, who's also chair of the correctional union's bargaining team. "He was having a struggle. To witness this and feel so powerless is really frustrating, especially when you're asking for intervention or authority to intervene and receive no direction."

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A Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson declined comment, saying the allegations concern "confidential human-resources matters between the employer and the employee."

One of the tweets, published on May 4, recounted a conversation between a Central North correctional officer and a segregation manager, a new position created last year to reduce prison reliance on solitary confinement. "What are we gonna do with this [segregated inmate] who has been covered in feces for 8 days, and has been seen eating it?" the officer said, according to the tweet.

"He's been placed on a transfer list," the segregation manager replied.

Mr. Jackel ended the tweet with a sarcastic "Nice."

Four days later, Mr. Jackel tweeted an update. "Still in urine/feces soaked cell," he reported. "Still eating his own feces."

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His managers appeared no more motivated to help, providing a "shrug" and answering "don't know" to questions about their strategy for the inmate.

And on May 10, he posted a photo of a different cell covered in feces and other detritus and wrote, "Hostile mentally-ill [inmate] lived here for 2+ wks. [Correctional Officers] asked 2 remove him…Mgt said no."

A letter from the Superintendent of Central North informing Mr. Jackel of disciplinary proceedings alleges he violated three separate employee policies: the ministry's code of conduct, the Ontario Public Service Social Media Guidelines and a set of ethical principles for correctional workers.

The code of conduct warns that correctional employees can be fired for taking photographs on the job.

Termination can also be doled out for staff who post on social media in a way that "Negatively impacts the employer's reputation."

The May 10 photo was actually taken two years previous, Mr. Jackel said.

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He decided to repost it because it helped illustrate in revolting detail the problems he was trying to highlight continuing issues.

A 22-year prison veteran, he said his immediate hope was to get help for the troubled inmate, which happened shortly after the May 10 tweet, although Mr. Jackel declined to say exactly what the help entailed for privacy reasons.

Long-term, he said, he wanted to draw attention to the barriers correctional officer face in trying to fulfill the province's mandate to improve segregation conditions.

"We have many inmates like this who have serious mental-health issues," he said. "But we don't have the resources or training to manage them. Our staffing is depleted. I wanted to call attention to that. The ministry has been making claims of transforming corrections for three years, but we're not making any progress."

The province bolstered efforts to improve conditions in segregation late last year, prompted to action by a series of revelations about Adam Capay, a Lac Seul First Nations man who spent more than 1,500 days in a rudimentary isolation cell awaiting trial.

In that case, another correctional officer, Mike Lundy, acted as a whistle-blower, drawing the attention of Ontario's human-rights commissioner to Mr. Capay's situation.

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The ministry's response included hiring former federal correctional ombudsman Howard Sapers to review segregation practices in the province. In a preliminary report issued in May, Mr. Sapers said many inmates in Ontario's segregation cells have serious mental-health needs and "simply should not be there."

The situation described by Mr. Jackel is comparable to the events leading up to an inmate's death at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., last December.

A prisoner suffering from schizophrenia had been acting aggressively and covering himself "in his own excrement," according to coroner's report. A group of officers subdued him on the floor of his segregation cell with pepper spray and physical force.

The inmate died minutes later. His cause of death remains uncertain.

Fourteen officers and one manager have been suspended and possible criminal charges are pending.

The case against Mr. Jackel is far less tragic. He attended a Monday meeting to hear the case against him and expects to know his fate within a few weeks, but he maintains that, "I don't think I've done anything wrong."

Howard Sapers, Canada's federal prison ombudsman, speaks with Affan Chowdhry about the government's recent decision not to implement any of the recommended changes from the Ashley Smith inquest Globe and Mail Update
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