College of Family Physicians of Canada statement on solitary confinement

Solitary cell in Prison Jacques-Cartier, Rennes, France

College of Family Physicians of Canada
Prison Health, Community of Practice in Family Medicine (CPFM)
August 7, 2016

Position Statement on Solitary Confinement

Definition and background

Isolation, segregation, separation, cellular, or solitary confinement are some of the terms used to describe a form of confinement where prisoners are separated from the general prison population and held alone in their cell.1 Solitary confinement refers to any confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact,2 and with limited or no access to rehabilitative programs.

Solitary confinement may be imposed for administrative or disciplinary purposes. For example, a prisoner who has a violent history or is at risk of injury from other prisoners may be placed in administrative segregation; a prisoner who does not follow the rules and regulations of the institution may be placed in disciplinary segregation.

The United Nations (UN) considers any stay in solitary confinement over 15 days as torture, but the negative consequences of sensory deprivation can be seen as early as 48 hours after segregation.3 These include onset of mental illness, exacerbation of pre-existing mental illness, and the development or worsening of physical symptoms.3 4 5 6 7

Family physicians are health advocates who are called to be socially accountable.8 9 The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) promotes social justice as the pursuit and/or attainment of equity in society.10 Social justice focuses on addressing the social determinants of health and minimizing their negative effects on individuals’ health.11 12 Accordingly, the CFPC Prison Health Community of Practice in Family Medicine13 advocates for best health outcomes for incarcerated populations in Canada. Therefore, it is the ethical, moral, and professional obligation of health care professionals to advocate for the humane and just treatment of incarcerated persons and to make specific recommendations regarding solitary confinement.14 15 16 17

Recommendations

  1. Abolish solitary confinement for administrative segregation. Non-segregation options must be created within correctional facilities, with adequate resources and correctional staff.18 19 20
  2. Abolish solitary confinement for youth. Due to the more fragile brains, the negative effects of solitary confinement will have a greater impact on youth.21
  3. Solitary confinement for medical reasons (including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, and/or diabetes) is inappropriate. These persons require care that will address the medical health needs rather than exacerbate them in solitary confinement.
  4. Solitary confinement for mental illness (including those with post-traumatic stress disorder) is inappropriate. These persons require care in a specialized setting that will address the mental health needs rather than exacerbate them in solitary confinement.
  5. Solitary confinement for discipline is not recommended. The evidence shows that it is not effective and that better options exist.16
  6. Until solitary confinement is abolished, correctional facilities should develop and implement independent review procedures of all those in solitary confinement, to address both legality of the confinement and also to ensure the health (mental and medical) of persons in solitary confinement.
  7. Until solitary confinement is abolished, correctional facilities should assure that the health care needs of persons in segregation are met. Persons in solitary confinement should be assessed in person by medical and nursing staff at least daily, in addition to regular assessment by correctional staff. If the person requires health care, then the patient should be seen in a health care setting that maintains confidentiality and dignity.22

References

1 Shalev S. A Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement. London, UK: Mannheim Centre for Criminology, London School of Economics; 2008.

2 General Assembly resolution 70/175, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), A/RES/70/175 (8 January 2016), available from http://undocs.org/A/RES/70/175. Accessed 2017 Jan.

3 General Assembly resolution 66/150, Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, A/RES/66/150 (19 December 2011), available from http://undocs.org/A/RES/66/150. Accessed 2017 January.

4 Shalev S. Solitary Confinement and Supermax Prisons: A Human Rights and Ethical Analysis. J Forensic Psychol Pract 2011;2-3(11):151-183. doi: 10.1080/15228932.2011.537582

5 Haney C. Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement. Crime & Delinquency 2003;49(1):124-156.

6 Kaba F, Lewis A, Glowa-Kollisch S, Hadler J, Lee D, Alper H, et al. Solitary confinement and risk of self-harm among jail inmates. Am J Public Health 2014;104(3):442-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301742

7 Kupers T. What To Do With the Survivors? Coping With the Long-Term Effects of Isolated Confinement. Crim Justice Behav 2008;35(8):1005-1016.

8 Tannenbaum D, Konkin J, Parsons E, Saucier D, Shaw L, Walsh A, et al. CanMEDS – Family Medicine: Working Group on Curriculum Review October 2009. Mississauga, ON: The College of Family Physicians of Canada; 2009.

9 Buchman S, Woollard R, Meili R, Goel R. Practising social accountability: From theory to action. Can Fam Physician 2016;62(1):15-18.

10 The College of Family Physicians of Canada. The CFPC Social Justice Lens Worksheet. Mississauga, ON: The College of Family Physicians of Canada; 2015.

11 Wilkinson R, Marmot M, eds. Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts, 2nd ed. Copenhagen, Denmark: World Health Organization; 2008.

12 Canadian Nurses Association. Social Justice … a means to an end, an end in itself. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Nurses Association; 2010.

13 The College of Family Physicians of Canada. Prison Health Program Committee. Available from: www.cfpc.ca/Prison_Health_Who_We_Are. Accessed: 2017 January.

14 Appelbaum KL. American Psychiatry Should Join the Call to Abolish Solitary Confinement. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 2015;43(4):406-15.

15 Webster P. Controls over solitary confinement needed. CMAJ 2015;187(1):E3-E4.

16 Ahalt C, Williams B. Reforming Solitary-Confinement Policy – Heeding a Presidential Call to Action. N Engl J Med 2016;374(18):1704-1706.

17 American Public Health Association policy statement, Solitary Confinement as a Public Health Issue, Policy number 201310 (5 November 2013).

18 National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD). Six Core Strategies for Reducing Seclusion and Restraint Use (c). Available from: www.nasmhpd.org/sites/default/files/Consolidated%20Six%20Core%20Strategies%20Document.pdf. Accessed 2017 January.

19 Colton D, Xiong H. Reducing seclusion and restraint: questionnaire for organizational assessment. J Psychiatr Pract 2010;16(5):358-62. doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000388632.74899.86.

20 Colton D. Leadership’s and program’s role in organizational and cultural change to reduce seclusions and restraints. In: For Our Own Safety: Examining the Safety of High-Risk Interventions for Children and Young People. Nunno M, Bullard L, Day D, eds. Washington, D.C.: Child Welfare League of America; 2008, p. 143-166.

21 Burke AS. Under construction: Brain formation, culpability, and the criminal justice system. Int J Law Psychiatry 2011;34(6):381-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2011.10.001

22 Enggist S, Møller L, Galea G, Udesen C, eds. Prisons and Health. Copenhagen, Denmark: World Health Organization, 2014.

Comment piece by Stewart Phillip in the Globe and Mail

By Stewart Phillip | The Globe and Mail, October 23, 2017
Stewart Phillip is the president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Mr. Trudeau, stop the residential school to solitary confinement pipeline

Survivors of residential schools carry trauma. But the trauma is also intergenerational: When caregivers of children are hurt by a genocidal system, the trauma is passed on to that child.

Canadian prisons are filled with people who carry the deepest of traumas from a young age. Many of the incarcerated are disproportionately Indigenous people, and about a third of all prisoners who are isolated in segregation cells are Indigenous.

Bobby Lee Worm, for example, is a young Indigenous woman who spent a total of 1,123 days in solitary confinement. There, she attempted to take her own life.

Ms. Worm was a witness against Canada in a recent lawsuit by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and John Howard Society challenging solitary confinement in federal prisons. She is a member of the Daystar First Nation, and her family are residential school survivors. Unfortunately for Bobby Lee, intergenerational trauma meant growing up surrounded by rampant abuse, poverty, and violence. At age 12, she ran away from home and started getting into trouble with the law.

Ms. Worm stated in her testimony: “Since childhood, my sense of being able to control my life has been shattered again and again. This feeling of powerlessness worsened during the years that I spent in segregation. While in segregation … I was literally powerless; every aspect of my every movement was controlled and under scrutiny. I felt like I had been thrown in a hole and left to rot.”

“Administrative segregation” is a vicious code term Canada uses for solitary confinement, when it takes people who are already incarcerated and further contains them in isolated cells. Right now, these decisions are made in the absence of evidence, with no independent oversight and no limits to how long someone can be kept in segregation.
Like Indigenous people, black people are also overrepresented in Canadian prisons and solitary cells. Andre Blair, for example, was once isolated for 363 days “for his own safety” because the guards said he was attacked by other prisoners. Mr. Blair testified that his own voice mattered little when decisions were made to place him in solitary: “When I objected to the allegations against me on the basis that there was no proof, the officer told me that he did not have to prove anything, it was not a court of law, and there was nothing I could do about it.”

In total, Mr. Blair has spent 637 days in solitary confinement.

According to the United Nations, prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture. Experts agree that it worsens mental illness and increases the risk of suicide.

By keeping Indigenous people in solitary confinement, Canada inflicts new forms of trauma on those already suffering from the traumatic legacy of its own residential schools.

If Canada continues on this path, how is healing possible? How can reconciliation be realized?

Each of the witnesses who testified about their experience of isolation described the serious harms it caused them; for many, it aggravated pre-existing trauma.

“I realized that I was acting out because I had so much pain stored up inside me,” testified Bobby Lee “I understood that in order to move out of solitary … I had to contain all of my emotion. I became paranoid about how much emotion I was showing”

Canada recently responded to criticisms of its segregation practices with Bill C-56, but the proposed fix is meaningless. On paper, the bill would initially limit a person’s stay in solitary confinement to 15 days; however, prison officials could still extend the duration of the stay at their sole discretion. This bill does little more than create more paperwork in order to keep a person isolated in solitary confinement.

Justin Trudeau’s government speaks of reconciliation for past wrongs, but doesn’t seem to recognize its responsibility for the traumatic legacy it actively perpetuates within its own prisons.

If Justin Trudeau’s government truly wants to be responsible for ending the trauma Canada has inflicted and continues to inflict on Indigenous peoples, he must put forward real change, not what’s in C-56.

To Marie-France Lalonde MPP, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services

Hon Marie-France Lalonde, MPP
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services (Ontario)
October 10, 2017

Dear Ms Lalonde

Thank you for your response of September 13, 2017 to our letter advocating the full-scale abolition of solitary confinement in the prison system. We were pleased to see your bold, long-term, vision, both on solitary and imprisonment itself, but wish to concentrate on the immediate goal: the abolition of solitary confinement.

We were puzzled by your statement about shifting health care services to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, apparently to be “explored.” Clearly it would be important to deal with this, if to be done, to be done without delay. It is not clear to us how the announcement of December 2016 of adding 239 health care staff “related to segregation and mental health” fits with the transfer of inmate health care itself to the Ministry of Health.

Maintaining the security of both staff and inmates of course is an important concern. We know of no evidence, however, that shows that segregation enhances security, particularly of staff. There has been a marked decline in the use of solitary in the federal system, from 474 inmates in 2015 to 298 inmates in 2016. Yet CSC reports, from data provided by wardens, that over 90% found no increase in incidents from the reduced use of segregation, or the use of alternatives for the mentally ill. The report concluded, in the grudging language of CSC, that “generally, the reduced use of administrative segregation has not had a negative impact on the safety and security of staff and inmates in the institutions.”

We urge you to do better than the caps of fifteen days/sixty days total recommended by Howard Sapers. Both limits would mean an improvement on the current system. We could expect fewer inmate suicides, attempts and incidents of self-harm, fewer deteriorating in mental health, and fewer previously healthy inmates developing new conditions of mental illness. All these harms, moreover, are known to occur with even very short stays in solitary. Nor is there any known benefit from the use of solitary.

We agree that some measures of temporary isolation will continue to be necessary, in cases of assault, and for the protection of some inmates (for example of former police officers). Yet these should be short, not entail sensory deprivation, 24-hour lights on and restriction of human contact to a slot in the door.

We say the time has come to end the use of solitary confinement. It was instituted with the naive hope that inmates would, separate from criminal elements in the general prison population, use their time in a separate cell to reflect on their transgressions and reform. It did not happen, and why it did not has been known for more than a century. Administrative segregation became a convenient solution for wardens for trouble makers rather than dangerous offenders. Inmates who commit new crimes can be dealt with in the regular court system.

We share the view that incarceration, as deprivation of liberty, is a legitimate punishment for crime. The use of solitary confinement in addition is not justified. That it has been used disproportionately for the mentally ill, indigenous persons, racial minorities and youth adds to the reasons for its abolition.

We would like to discuss these matters with you. If you would be willing to meet with us (several members of our organization), please have an assistant contact us (email given below).

Yours sincerely

[members of the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement]

To Ralph Goodale and Members of Parliament

Solitary confinement: harm reduction is better than nothing, but not good enough

We are pleased to see the announcement of the Hon Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, that new legislation (Bill C-56) will be introduced this fall to limit, albeit with serious exceptions, the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. The proposed limit of 21 days (later to be reduced to 15 days) will prevent some suicides and some mental deterioration, but why not do the job better?

The proposal falls far short of UN recommendations, which include a 60-day limit in solitary in any year, as well as the 15-days per stay. Ignored is the warning that scientific studies “have established that some lasting mental damage is caused after a few days of social isolation” (Juan E. Mendez. UN Rapporteur, 18 October 2011).

Bill C-56, as proposed, will still leave an enormous amount of discretion in the hands of wardens and the Commissioner of Corrections. A former director of Corrections Canada, Mary Campbell, called the bill “very thin,” the minimum to say “they did something.”

Mr Goodale is quoted as saying that, on mental health problems, “you don’t solve that problem by confining them to administrative segregation. In fact, that probably makes the problem worse.” Actually, there is abundant evidence that even short stays (as low as 48 hours) cause harm.

The purpose of our prison system, at every level, is rehabilitation and reintegration into society, as Mr Goodale himself acknowledges. His proposals fall short of the reforms accepted by the Ontario government, based on the report of Howard Sapers, former federal Correctional Investigator. These, too, fall short of the reform we seek, the virtual abolition of solitary (only very brief use, in dangerous situations, while other plans are being made).

We urge the minister to look at the progress made in other jurisdictions to reduce, radically, the use of solitary, and eliminate it completely for some categories of prisoner.

Solitary confinement is the last barbaric element of our prison system. Like slavery and child labour — acceptable practices in the past — it should go. No inmate is improved in solitary, no prison made safer by its use.

Yours sincerely
[ 12 members of the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement ]

Supporters’ voices

Even fifteen days is too long

Helen Hansen, an activist on justice issues in Guelph, Ontario, sent the following letter to her own MPP, Liz Sandals, on October 10, 2017:

Dear Ms Sandals

I am a mother and grandmother who is concerned about justice for prisoners and others.

May I urge that your government abolish solitary confinement — even fifteen days is too long.

Also, another matter of unjust punishment is 24-hour lights on. In my view this is unusual and severely crude treatment.

Surely harsh treatment will not encourage a prisoner/offender to reform.

In some circumstances a prisoner may be innocent of an offence — something to bear in mind.

I would be grateful to know your views

Many thanks.
Helen Hansen

Abolish the use of solitary confinement in our prisons

I practised law in the province of Ontario for 50 years. A significant part of my practice was in criminal law. In the early years of my practice, with a few other lawyers, I did a significant amount of work for the inmates in Millhaven Penitentary. One of the cases I did was an inquest into the suicide in solitary confinement of an inmate named Eddie Nalon. In the summer of 1974 Eddie was serving a life sentence for murder. At the suggestion of a guard as to how to change the range he was on, Eddie refused to work and was placed in segregation. His case was up before the segregation review board after the first week he was in solitary. They did not deal with his case. His case was dealt with by the segregation review board after his second week in segregation. He was ordered released from segregation but they did not convey that information to Eddy. He committed suicide that night.

What is known as Prison Justice Day commemorates Eddie’s death in segregation.

Recently a report was released by the Ontario government done by Howard Sapers, the former federal correctional investigator, on solitary confinement. Another report was issued by the present federal correctional investigator Ivan Zinger. Both reports call for very drastic reduction in the use of solitary confinement.

I do not believe that either of those reports go far enough and that is why I’ve joined this group seeking to abolish the use of solitary confinement in our prisons, both provincially and federally.

Paul Copeland

Why I support a ban on solitary confinement

The very concept of being placed alone, locked in a room with no freedom to come out, lights on, observation of my every action possible through a window, contact with the outside restricted to food being passed in, nothing to do—sensory deprivation– sends shivers down my spine. I can think of no more likely result of such an experience than mental, psychological, emotional unhinging, only the length of time for personal disintegration differing from one prisoner to another. Breaking someone’s spirit is a morally despicable act. Since most prisoners will be released into society, it is against reason to subject such persons – who may well be more difficult prisoners — to such an experience. Flashbacks to it may render difficult or impossible any semblance of normal life. If reintegration of prisoners into society is our goal, solitary confinement is patently counterproductive. Given that a high percentage of prisoners reportedly suffer from mental illness of one kind or another, it is indeed folly. On these intuitive and rational grounds, I reject solitary confinement, and seek more constructive solutions to the problems it is used for. Violent, out-control prisoners representing a danger to guards and other prisoners must be subjected to controls, but solitary confinement is a destructive solution. We need to address the real task.

Phyllis Creighton

The time is now

More than 1/3 of women in federal prisons in Canada are Indigenous. 91% have histories of abuse. Many also experience disabling mental health issues and most are poor.

Urgent need for Action: The Time Is Now. We must end the criminalization, isolation and imprisonment.

Implement Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 30 and stop jailing Indigenous women.

In Sisterhood with women inside and Elizabeth Fry Societies across Canada

Hon. Kim Pate, Senator, former director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

I cannot tell to those in hell

I cannot tell to those in hell
The dreams I send above
Nor how the shrill of whistles kill
Each passing thought of love.
Within these walls that never fall
The damned all come to know
The rows of cells–the special hell
Called Solitary Row

Jack McCann (quoted in Michael Jackson, Prisoners of Isolation)

Solitary confinement: “the bitterest torment that human ingenuity can inflict”

William Godwin (An Inquiry into Political Justice, Book 7, chapter VI)

To the Globe and Mail, 9 June 2017: “Ban Solitary Outright”

The Globe and Mail June 9 2017

Your editorial clearly sets out the inconsistencies, hypocrisy and injustices of solitary confinement. We agree with it also in its support for Howard Sapers’s recommendations for excluding the mentally ill and juveniles. However, his recommended cap on solitary (15 days at a time, 60 days total in a year) is based on a UN Report of 2011, which itself was a compromise. Evidence continues to mount that solitary causes harm even in shorter stays.

Independent oversight would be better than the current wide-open discretion accorded prison managers. You call for “getting those minimum standards right” and insist that legislation is needed – we concur. However, the “right” maximum stay, if we go by evidence of harm, which we should, would be under 48 hours. Better to look at other places which have made the move to virtual abolition.

Flogging, which society now finds abhorrent, was once acceptable, too. The time has come to ban solitary confinement.

Mary Boyce, lawyer
Paul Copeland, CM, LLB
Canon Phyllis Creighton, OOnt, MA, editor
Hon Norman Dyson, QC
Ronald Hinch, PhD, professor emeritus of criminology
Hon Keith Hoilett
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon) professor emerita

To Marie-France Lalonde, MPP, Minister of Community Safety, Ontario

Marie-France Lalonde, MPP
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services

Dear Ms Lalonde

We were pleased when the premier appointed Howard Sapers to conduct a long-needed inquiry into the use of solitary confinement in Ontario prisons. We consider that Mr Sapers’s 63 recommendations go far in addressing the worst aspects of solitary confinement as currently practised (notably the ban on its use for juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill). We concur that independent oversight would be better than the wide-open discretion prison authorities currently have in imposing, and continuing, solitary confinement.

However, we believe the time has come to go further: to abolish the use of solitary as a barbaric relic of a previous time. It was originally instituted on the theory that it would promote self-reflection and reform. Instead, it made inmates mad. It continues to, and to provoke self-harm, attempted suicide and suicide.

For “disciplinary segregation” the case is obvious: abolition. Criminal penalties for serious infractions in a penal institution are available, or loss of privileges for the less serious.

“Administrative segregation” is more complicated. For inmates on remand there is no justification for the punitive aspects, the extreme deprivation, of segregation. Some kind of protective custody, with measures to ensure social contact and exercise must be provided. Protective custody for vulnerable inmates will also require creative measures to ensure adequate social contact for health. Segregation should not be used for those who self-harm or attempt or threaten suicide, matters for psychiatric care.

(B) segregation to protect staff and other inmates from harm: again abolition will require significant changes in building, staffing and programs. There are positive examples in other places that should be considered. We urge Ontario to be bold in looking at alternatives.

Reforms such as independent oversight do not go far enough. Independent oversight for slavery? Flogging? Fewer strokes of the paddle? We say the time has come, as it did for those barbaric practices, to abolish solitary confinement, under whatever name.

Sincerely yours

Mary Boyce, lawyer
Paul Copeland, CM, LLB
Canon Phyllis Creighton, OOnt, MA, editor
Hon Norman Dyson, QC
Ronald Hinch, PhD, professor emeritus of criminology
Hon Keith Hoilett
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon) professor emerita

To Hon. Ralph Goodale MP, Minister of Public Safety (with reply)

Hon Ralph Goodale, MP
June 7, 2017

Dear Mr Goodale

We are pleased to see Correctional Services Canada conferring with equivalent provincial jurisdictions on reforming solitary confinement. We will not repeat the reasons for reform being needed at all levels – they are well known.

Our point is to call for adequate reform – the abolition of solitary confinement – not merely the caps proposed by Howard Sapers (following the UN report of 2011) and other safeguards (albeit better than the status quo).

Our prison system, at all levels, has rehabilitation as its goal; most prisoners will get out and their time inside should help prepare them for it, not worsen their condition, if mentally ill, or push them into self-harm or suicide. That First Nations persons and blacks are consistently over-represented in solitary confinement (as they are in prisons generally) is yet another reason for concern.

Solitary confinement, or segregation, or whatever the euphemism is for it, as you know is largely the same in practice, while the legal justification for it varies by type:

  1. Disciplinary segregation: the case for abolition is clear. Criminal penalties for serious infractions in a penal institution are available, or loss of privileges for the less serious.
    Like flogging, the paddle and the bread-and-water diet, the time has come to abolish solitary confinement, not try to improve it. Charitable, monitored slavery? Flogging? We wonder.
  2. Administrative segregation
    1. as protective custody for vulnerable inmates. The punitive aspects of segregation must be abolished, especially for inmates on remand; some form of protection will continue to be needed, but this should not entail the extreme sensory deprivation of isolation. Segregation should not be used either for the mentally ill or those who self-harm or attempt or threaten suicide, matters for psychiatric care.
    2. segregation to protect staff and other inmates from harm from an inmate. Abolition here will require significant changes in building, staffing and programs. There are positive examples in other places that should be considered. We urge your department to consult widely on practical alternatives.

Sincerely yours

Mary Boyce, lawyer
Paul Copeland, CM, LLB
Canon Phyllis Creighton, OOnt, MA, editor
Hon Norman Dyson, QC
Ronald Hinch, PhD, professor emeritus of criminology
Hon Keith Hoilett
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon) professor emerita

The Minister’s reply

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Ministre de la Sécurité publique et de la Protection Civile
Ottawa, Canada K1A OP8

Ms. Lynn McDonald lynnmcd@uoguelph.ca

Dear Ms. McDonald and co-signatories:

Thank you for your correspondence of June 7, 2017, regarding your concerns about the use of administrative segregation in federal correctional institutions.

Our government is focused on ensuring that federal correctional institutions provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive to inmate rehabilitation, staff safety and the protection of the public. The law provides for administrative segregation in limited circumstances to help ensure the safety of all inmates, staff and visitors. However, specific legal requirements are set out in section 31 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) and must be met in order to place an inmate in administrative segregation, including that there be no reasonable alternative and that the inmate be released from segregation at the earliest appropriate time.

While there has been a significant decrease in the use of administrative segregation, over the last two years, we recognize the need to reduce more, and we are working with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to make further improvements and reduce the use of administrative segregation in the federal correctional system, particularly for women, Indigenous offenders and those with mental illness.

On June 19, 2017, our government introduced legislation to restrict the use of administrative segregation and strengthen Canada’s federal correctional system. Bill C-56, An Act to Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole Act, will create a legislative framework that establishes a presumptive time limit for inmates confined in administrative segregation. Eighteen months after the legislation comes into force, there will be a presumption that an inmate must not remain in administrative segregation longer than 15 days, subject to security and safety concerns and there being no reasonable alternative. For the eighteen months prior, the presumptive limit will be 21 days.

This legislation is part of a series of measures that include Commitments in Budget 2017 to be used to expand mental health capacity for all inmates in federal correctional facilities. In addition, funding will be used to help reverse the trend of Indigenous over-representation in Canada’s Criminal justice system and to help previously incarcerated Indigenous peoples heal, rehabilitate and find good jobs. Together these investments and this new legislation will provide support to the most vulnerable people in federal Correctional institutions.

Furthermore, in May 2017, CSC consulted extensively, including with Community, partners and stakeholders on the proposed Commissioner’s Directive (CD) 709: Administrative Segregation and CD 843: Interventions to Preserve Life and Prevent Serious Bodily Harm. CSC carefully considered all feedback while revising the CDs.

As of August 1, 2017, there are specific groups of inmates who will not be admitted to administrative segregation, as well as additional groups that are not admissible unless there are exceptional circumstances. The following inmates are not admissible to administrative segregation, and instead will be managed under CSC’s policy to preserve life and prevent serious bodily harm:

  • inmates with a serious mental illness with significant impairment, including inmates who are certified in accordance with the relevant provincial/territorial legislation;
  • inmates actively engaging in self-injury which is deemed likely to result in serious bodily harm; and
  • inmates at elevated or imminent risk for Suicide.

In addition, the conditions of confinement in administrative segregation will ensure the allowance of essential items upon admission, personal property within 24 hours, daily showers, and a minimum of two hours daily outside of the inmate’s Cell.

We recognize that the use of administrative segregation and the treatment of those with mental health issues are complex challenges that require careful Consideration.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Yours sincerely,

[ signed ]
The Honourable Ralph Goodale, P.C., M.P.

The case for abolishing solitary confinement

Lynn McDonald
Toronto Star, May 29, 2017

Support is growing for a substantial reduction in the use of solitary confinement — good news — but is it enough?

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé recently documented the slovenly way solitary is handled: we do a better job in tracking animals than in checking on solitary inmates, he said.

The recommendations Howard Sapers made in his even more recent report, commissioned by the Ontario government, are clear and strong: a ban on solitary for four categories of inmate: the mentally ill, suicidal inmates, pregnant women and new mothers. He would limit solitary to a maximum of 15 days per stay, with a per-year maximum of 60 days.

The minister of Correctional Services, Marie-France Lalonde, promptly stated that all of Sapers’s recommendations would be implemented. Ontario has indeed made a start in announcing the closure of two notoriously inadequate prisons, Ottawa and Thunder Bay.

But why 15 days? The limit is a nod to the 2011 United Nations report that calls solitary confinement any longer “torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” which should, as such, be prohibited.

Yet the U.N. expert who hit on that number, Juan Mendez, himself acknowledged that “even a few days of social isolation” can cause “some mental damage.” He urged a total ban on solitary for pretrial detention, juveniles and those with mental disabilities. Yes, and about time for Canada, too.

The question now turns to the magic 15. How is it that 16 or more days amount to “torture,” but 14 or 15 days in solitary is perfectly fine for your health? There is substantial evidence of harm with even short periods in solitary.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada, in a position statement in 2016, documented harm from stays as short as 48 hours.

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2014 made a similar point on harm, however without this being an official position of the CMA. Effects may develop “within a few days and increase the longer segregation lasts.” In the three years before the study, nearly half the inmates who committed suicide, 14 out of 30, were in solitary at the time. The editorial looked to this 200-year old practice having “had its day.”

To the committed skeptic on solitary confinement no evidence is ever enough. The gold standard is the controlled experiment, which in this case would require assigning inmates to no solitary and different lengths of it, to be tested afterwards on their mental health, self-harm and suicide attempts. This is obviously not possible for ethical reasons.

However, there is relevant research comparing outcomes between inmates in solitary and those not. A New York study found that those at any time in solitary were 3.2 times as likely to commit self-harm than those not. Self-harm means laceration, ligature, swallowing a foreign body, overdose, head banging or setting oneself, or the cell, on fire. “Potentially fatal self-harm,” meaning suicide, was significantly correlated with solitary confinement.

Federal prisons house the more serious offenders. After much bad publicity from suicides in federal prisons, the government has recognized the harm of solitary and has started to reduce its use. But the minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, seems to think that is enough.

So far, he has made only a vague commitment to some reform, not necessarily to the law itself. Yet the existing law, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, has no effective restrictions on the use of solitary. It permits it when there is “no reasonable alternative,” yet does nothing to require any alternatives. Release is to be at the “earliest appropriate time,” with no specification as to what constitutes “appropriate.”

The problem remains that some sort of segregation will continue to be needed for inmates at risk of assault, such as sex offenders and police officers liable to retaliation. Yet there is no reason why this should amount to the extreme deprivation of solitary confinement. With electronic communications, telephones, books and visits it should be possible for inmates to avoid mental deterioration. This is a design, technology and scheduling issue.!

Solitary confinement should be abolished, not only for juveniles and the mentally ill (priorities), but all solitary, for federal and provincial/territorial prisons.

Rehabilitation is a goal of our prison system and most prisoners are released at some point. Hanging, flogging, the paddle and bread-and-water diets were abolished decades ago. This barbarism, too, should pass.

Lynn McDonald is a former MP, professor emerita at the University of Guelph and Member of the Order of Canada.