Segregation – a federal snapshot II

……continued from March 5

Last December, Correctional Service of Canada reiterated that it doesn’t use solitary confinement because, for instance, inmates in “administrative segregation” have daily visits from wardens, health-care personnel and other staff. The Globe and Mail reported that prisoner-rights advocates found the argument preposterous. Wardens or their agents are required to visit segregation units daily, but what turnoverarocktoday knows is those ‘visits’ often amount to a simple step into the range, the exchange of a few words with guards, and the signing of the log. Regardless, all communication between inmates and staff members is through a small hatch in the cell door, hardly a ‘visit’ or meaningful human contact.

This particular reference by CSC to its isolation practices is in reaction to a suit filed last October by three inmates at Edmonton Institution, claiming damages totaling $5.6-million. The men contend long periods of segregation without social interaction led to health effects including major depression, paranoia, rage, self-harm and disrupted sleep patterns. The lawsuit uses a variety of international academic and anecdotal sources that support the Mandela Rules, maximizing the use of solitary confinement to 60 days in a calendar year, and which was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The John Howard Society’s executive director Catherine Latimer says CSC will face an uphill battle trying to prove the defense it filed claiming Canadian segregated inmates do not suffer, and their well-being is monitored to ensure no adverse effects.

Now, Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell certified a class-action against Correctional Service of Canada on Monday, December 12 of last year, the first lawsuit in Canada on behalf of federal inmates alleging the use of solitary confinement and inadequate access to medication has violated the rights of tens of thousands of mentally ill inmates. In certifying the claim, the judge said the case hinges on whether CSC violated Charter sections 7 (life, liberty, security of the person), 9 (against unfair detainment), and 12 (freedom from cruel and unusual punishment) in its operation of federal prisons and whether the potential violations warrant damages. Both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail reported on this lawsuit during that middle week of December.

Then in mid-February, another judge declared a rare postconviction mistrial in the case of a 33 year-old Yukon inmate, housed in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, who has spent more time in custody awaiting trial and sentencing, including more than three years in solitary confinement, than his original crime would have warranted. His mental health deteriorated to a point where he was ruled unfit to participate in any proceedings against him. The court has just ordered a second trial but the outcome is in question, given the man’s mental health status.

To cap off a call for reform, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, representing around 35,000 family doctors, issued a statement on February 27 calling for an all-out ban on solitary confinement in Canada’s provincial jails and federal prisons. “Ethical, moral and professional obligations” of family doctors compelled the organization to take a strong position on the practice. “The use of solitary confinement can have a negative impact on a person’s health and can worsen pre-existing conditions, and it can be especially detrimental for youth and prisoners who suffer from mental illness,” said Ruth Martin, chair of the college’s Prison Health Program Committee.

Remember, these men and women who have experienced the negative impact of isolation, and prolonged isolation in many cases, will one day be returned to the community. They will be our neighbours, the person driving the car behind us, or sitting next to us on the bus. There is only a hair’s breadth between a constructive, contributing member of society, and a liability on our shared resources.

Whither goest thou?

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