The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is joining with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association to call for an immediate government response to the alarming increase in the use of solitary confinement in Canada’s federal penitentiaries. Statistics show that both the prevalence, and the duration, of solitary confinement have increased over the past ten years. Moreover, in the absence of adequate mental health facilities, documented cases show a pattern of using segregation as a response to mental health problems, a practice which the Office of the Correctional Investigator has called “[n]either safe, nor humane”.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has recommended that mentally ill prisoners should never be subject to solitary confinement. Courts in the United States have found that such treatment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. For over a decade, numerous Canadian inquiries, taskforces and oversight bodies have called for reform, including increased mental health facilities, independent review of segregation, and increased rule of law within prisons. Canada cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer. According to the most recent report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the prevalence of offenders with significant mental health issues upon admission has doubled in the past five years, and statistics suggest that the number of reported self-injury incidents in custody has doubled over the past two years. Our jails are not hospitals, and solitary confinement is not a mental health treatment program. The government must act now to end the over-reliance on solitary confinement within Canada’s penitentiaries.
Corrections Canada’s over-reliance on solitary confinement is not a new issue. Over a decade has passed since Madam Justice Arbour concluded that “the management of administrative segregation that I have observed is inconsistent with the Charter culture which permeates other branches of the administration of the criminal justice.” She recommended limiting the amount of time an inmate could spend in solitary confinement to a total of 60 days per year, and found that there was “no alternative to the current overuse of prolonged segregation but to recommend that it be placed under the control and supervision of the courts. Since that time, multiple independent and internal reviews have affirmed Justice Arbour’s findings, each reinforcing the call for increased rule of law within prisons, and independent adjudication and oversight in the use of segregation. Correctional Services Canada (CSC) has not implemented the recommended independent reviews. In addition to the rising number of inmates subject to segregation, and the duration of the average stay in solitary confinement has increased dramatically over the past ten years. Moreover, the CSC is increasingly using “transitional units” to house inmates. These transitional units, which the office of the Correctional Investigator has called “segregation by any other name,” are not subject to any review and due process. CSC also does not keep any statistics on the number of inmates held in “transitional units”, meaning the number of prisoners in conditions of solitary confinement is likely much higher than the available statistics suggest.