Liberals set 15-day limit on solitary confinement of federal prisoners
The federal government is imposing a cap of 15 days on holding prisoners in solitary confinement.
Once the bill tabled in the House of Commons Monday passes into law, the Correctional Service of Canada will have an 18-month transition period, during which time the cap will be set at 21 days.
The time limits are subject to safety and security requirements, as well as ensuring reasonable alternatives are available.
There will be an independent review process if the cap is not met, or if an inmate is placed in segregation more than four times in a 90-day period.
Monday’s announcement comes just weeks before a lawsuit challenging the practice of solitary confinement was scheduled to go to trial on July 4. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which launched the legal action, is not commenting because the case is set to begin.
The John Howard Society of Canada has called for an end to the use of prolonged segregation, which is anything longer than 15 consecutive days and no more than 60 in a calendar year. It has also said that people with serious mental illness or suicide risks should not be placed in segregation.
In March, Canada’s correctional investigator, Ivan Zinger, found that the Correctional Service of Canada was holding fewer inmates in solitary confinement and for shorter periods of time.
But he called on the federal government to implement legislative reforms to ensure the positive momentum was maintained to further ease reliance on segregation, especially for inmates with mental health problems or those who are prone to hurting themselves.
Inmates in solitary on decline
At the time, Zinger said on any given day there are about 375 inmates held in segregation, less than half the average of 800 just a few years ago. He said the creation of special needs and mental health units has led to the drop.
In all, there were 6,792 admissions to segregation in 2015-16, the lowest figure in a decade. The total was down from 8,321 the previous year.
Admissions of federally sentenced women to segregation were down in the same period.
In 2015-16 there were 378 admissions involving 204 women, compared with 461 admissions involving 243 women the year before.
Calls for tighter restrictions over solitary confinement grew louder after the high-profile inquest into the death of teen prisoner Ashley Smith.
Smith died in a segregated prison cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007. A coroner’s jury ruled that her self-inflicted choking death was a homicide and made 104 recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Some critics and prisoners’ advocates have demanded a total ban on segregation, calling it cruel and unusual punishment.
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June 19, 2017 at 04:29PM