A Guide to the Abolition of Solitary Confinement

by Lynn McDonald | Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement: where did it come from and why?

Solitary confinement originated as a reform measure in the late 18th century, when criminal punishments featured hanging, whipping and transportation to Australia or Tasmania. The intent was benevolent: solitude to reflect and repent, removal of the bad influences of other criminals and visits from upright citizens from a prison society. Prison reformer John Howard (c. 1726-90) was an advocate.

The term “penitentiary” reflects the original purpose, but penitence unhappily was not the result. It was soon found that many inmates went mad and some committed suicide.

The model proposed in 1791 by utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon, was never built. It featured the ultimate in solitary: rows of cells radiating out from a centre where a guard could observe in all directions, hence “panopticon.”

Bentham’s model was not built, but some of its features were adopted in many countries. The effective model for the world became the “Philadelphia System,” when the Philadelphia Penitentiary opened in 1821, with workspace and exercise yards, and visits from members of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. A modification called the “Silent System,” or “Auburn System,” with association in work, but silence enforced, was put in place in other prisons.

The famous novelist Charles Dickens visited solitary prisons while on tour in the United States and Canada in 1842. He gave a full chapter to the Philadelphia prison, on the awful “dull repose and quiet that prevails …” in those melancholy, “dreary places.” Inmates then had to wear a black hood, not removed until the sentence was over. He saw a mad man who threw himself around, from “his horrible fancies.”

What monstrous phantoms, bred of despondency and doubt and born and reared in solitude, have stalked upon the earth, making creation ugly and darkening the face of Heaven!

Solitary, he said, tampered “with the mysteries of the brain, and was “immeasurably worse” than bodily torture. It was a “secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused to stay” (Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation, Chapter 7). Humanity would not slumber for long, however, as we will soon see.

Dickens also visited Kingston Penitentiary, which opened in 1835 and was then under a silent-work system, but not solitary. He judged it to be well run. It would soon be marked by terrible cruelty, included the beating of child prisoners for talking. Kingston became the model solitary prison for Canada, described in painful detail by Michael Ignatieff in A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution.

It was designed to be a punishment that was severe but humane, rational and ultimately transformative. “In the silence of their cells, superintended by authority too systematic to be evaded, too rational to be resisted, prisoners would surrender to the lash of remorse” (p 78).

Dickens’s comments in 1842 on the psychological distress caused would be echoed in reports ever since. Self-harm, suicide and suicide attempts would become common in solitary confinement. Only later would neurological scientists be able to explain them through changes in brain functioning, detectable by electroencephalogram.

There were opponents to solitary confinement as a principle from the start. For example, in An Inquiry concerning Political Justice, 1793, the political philosopher William Godwin called it “the bitterest torment that human ingenuity can inflict,” and explicitly challenged John Howard on it (“Scale of Punishment,” Book 7, Chapter 6). While ordinary jails were “seminaries of vice,” solitary confinement would be “a nursery for madmen and idiots.” It would not soften or expand the mind, for human beings are social animals.

The consequences of solitary confinement: research results

Research has been accumulating from a great range of psychiatric and psychological studies, some experiments, and many analyses of quantitative data on prison inmates. A major meta study concluded:

Nearly every scientific inquiry into the effects of solitary confinement over the past 150 years has concluded that subjecting an individual to more than 10 days of involuntary segregation results in a distinct set of emotional, cognitive, social and physical pathologies (Smith, “The Effects of Solitary Confinement on Prison Inmates”).

Physiological consequences from solitary include severe headaches; heart palpitations, increased pulse, over sensitivity to stimuli, noise, pains in neck and back; digestion problems and weight loss. Psychological consequences are confusion, impaired concentration, memory loss, hallucinations, paranoid ideas, hearing voices, fantasizing, depression, poor impulse control, violent reactions, self-mutilation (frequent), lethargy, debilitation; sleeping problems and suicidal tendencies (pp 488-93).

There is much material also from studies based on actual behaviours, like self-mutilation, suicide and attempted suicide. Researchers in the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene analyzed records of inmates from 2010 to 2012, comparing incidents of self-harm between those in solitary with those not. While only 3% of admissions included any stay in solitary, 53% of acts of self-harm and 45% of potentially fatal self-harm were in that group. The researchers concluded that the data supported “the need to reconsider the use of solitary confinement as punishment in jails, especially for those with serious mental illness and adolescents” (Kaba, “Solitary Confinement and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates”). In fact, the results led to new programming in New York jails (see Glowa-Kollisch, below).

American psychiatrist Stuart Grassian, formerly of the Harvard Medical School and a frequent expert witness in court cases, reported data from interviews with more than 200 solitary inmates. He concluded that solitary confinement can cause specific psychiatric syndromes, such as hyper-responsitivity to external stimuli, perceptual distortions, illusions and hallucinations, panic attacks, difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory, intrusive obsessional thoughts, overt paranoia and problems with impulse control (Grassian, pp 335-6). He noted that people with at least average intelligence and healthy personality functioning were better able to withstand the deprivation of isolation, but that those with “borderline or psychopathic functioning,” the more usual inmate, were “especially at risk for severe psychopathologic reactions to such isolation.” He found that “severe and prolonged restriction” of environmental stimulation of solitary confinement, is “toxic to brain functioning” (Grassian, p 349).

Grassian noted the accumulation of similar results from over a century of observations on solitary. He noted research that showed that “even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the electroencephalogrm (EEG) pattern toward an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium” (Grassian, p 331). The absence of stimulation in solitary, “sensory deprivation,” makes a person hyper-responsive to stimulation when it occurs, which becomes noxious and irritating, prompting withdrawal.

The Canadian history of abuse

There is a long, sorry, history of the use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, federal (for prisoners sentenced to 2 years or more), provincial and territorial (under 2 years), and juvenile.

Solitary confinement is usually called “segregation” by correctional authorities. Other terms used for it or similar housing conditions are “protective custody,” “special needs units” and “special handling units.” “Supermax” prisons, two in Canada, many in the U.S., also have many similarities.

Legally, there are several forms of solitary itself: “disciplinary,” as a penalty for an infraction in prison, and “administrative,” at the discretion of the warden, which can be for reasons of the safety of the inmate, other inmates, staff and the prison.

There is solid documentation of the harm of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, notably, Jackson’s two books, Prisoners of Isolation and Justice behind the Walls: Human Rights in Canadian Prisons. A more recent resource is the report of the West Coast Prison Justice Society, Solitary: A Case for Abolition, 2016.

The prolonged use of solitary for eight inmates at the Kingston Prison for Women, after an attempted escape, resulted in a comprehensive study by Justice Louise Arbour. Her report on the “events” found that the impact of solitary was “seriously harmful.” Specific harms included “perceptual distortions, auditory and visual hallucinations, flashbacks, increased sensitivity and startle response, concentration difficulties and subsequent effect on school work; emotional distress due to the extreme boredom and monotony; anxiety, particularly associated with leaving the cell (Arbour, p 140).

Patterns of discrimination in the use of solitary have long been obvious. The annual report on federal prisons noted the reaching of a “sad milestone” for 2015-2016, that 25% of inmates were indigenous, 35% in the case of women prisoners. While the federal inmate population grew by 10% from 2005 to 2015, the indigenous inmate population increased by more than 50% (Canada, Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator).

The recent report for Ontario showed that black inmates are consistently overrepresented in administrative segregation, and aboriginal inmates “continue to have the longest average stay in segregation compared to any other group.” A large number of inmates have mental health problems, even more in solitary. It is well known that solitary makes mental health worse (Ontario, 2017). These are the chief reasons that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has advocated a ban on solitary (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2015).

Spectacular cases of suicide in Canadian prisons have resulted in much information emerging from inquests and subsequent inquiries. Three examples are:

  1. Eddie Nolan, who committed suicide in 1974 after 2 weeks of segregation at Millhaven; Prisoners’ Justice Day was established on the first anniversary of his death, August 10;
  2. Ashley Smith, a 14-year old, originally convicted in 2003 of a trivial offence, “disturbing the peace,” spent years in prison amassing new offences and self-harming. She was frequently transferred, until she committed suicide in 2007, while under “suicide watch” at an Ontario adult prison for women.
  3. Edward Snowshoe, an indigenous man from Ft McPherson, committed suicide in 2014 after 162 days solitary, in a Manitoba prison far from home.

A notorious case, not of suicide, but of being “lost in the system,” is Adam Capay, a First Nations man who spent 1560 days in “administrative segregation,” at the (provincial) Thunder Bay prison, on remand on a murder charge.

The following poem is by Jack McCann, a prisoner held in isolation in the B.C. Penitentiary for a total of 1421 days, 754 of them consecutive. His lawsuit resulted in a finding of isolation constituting “cruel and unusual punishment,” recounted by Jackson (Prisoners of Isolation).

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.

Alternatives to solitary confinement, some examples

There are now a number of examples of experiments on the replacement of solitary confinement with other kinds of regimes, such as a therapeutic community or a cottage system, some with new programs introduced into existing prisons. Brief mention only can be made, but these examples show that alternatives are feasible, at varying levels of cost.

  • In New York state, after a comprehensive review of the harm of solitary confinement (Kaba) an alternative program was established, Clinical Alterative to Punitive Segregation. CAPS entailed a full range of therapeutic activities, individual and group, art, medication, counselling and community meetings (Glowa-Kollisch, “From Punishment to Treatment”). Increased staff resulted in increased costs, but the program was deemed “effective,” with reduced rates of injury and self-harm.“
  • In Colorado, as a result of agitation for reform, adopted laws from 2011 to 2013 to reduce the use of solitary. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that considerable progress had been made, seen in the reduction in male inmates in administrative segregation from 7% of prisoners in 2011 to 1% in 2015; in the case of women the number from 39 in 2011 to zero by 2015 (West Coast Prison Justice Society, p 63).
  • Numerous states have reduced the use of solitary, particularly for youth and the mentally ill (Goode, “Prisons Rethink Isolation”).
  • A British women’s prison, Styal, stopped isolating prisoners who harmed themselves or others, but instead brought in volunteer counsellors and mental health specialists. “Situations that previously led to segregation now resulted in increased human interaction and assistance.” (Lupick, “Correctional Service Canada ignores repeated calls for reform on solitary confinement”). However, segregation was reintroduced on the failure to provide adequate resources for those with mental illness (West Coast Prison Justice society, p 68).
  • The Alouette Women’s Prison in B.C. for several years adopted a healing model, with substantial use of First Nations healers. It became unusual for a woman to be sent to segregation. The warden, Brenda Tole, since retired, reported to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security that she had “not seen any benefit from isolating an individual from support, comforts and human contact for extended periods of time. If anything, this procedure tends to escalate problem behviours.” Instead, what had benefited inmates was “not isolation, but rather extra staff or contractors to engage with them and close attention from health professionals” (House of Commons).
    The physician involved, Dr Ruth Martin, in her evidence to the same committee, stressed the need for health services, observing that most women incarcerated were there from crimes “due to their disordered health and social lives.” She saw improved health as key to their successful reintegration into society. From her 16 years of experience, she concluded that “the use of solitary confinement does not enhance an individual’s mental health, it worsens it, especially among those with pre-existing mental health difficulties.”
  • Justice Arbour, in her 1996 report, flagged alternatives developed in other prisons, notably the provision of safe space for inmates to deal with rage and other emotions more appropriately. She noted the use of peer support groups, an inmate committee, native sisterhood and elders and a citizens advisory committee (p 187). She urged that we “break the mind set which assumes the inevitability of segregation” (p 189).
  • In 2016, then President Obama ended solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, however that involved only a small number. He cited the “devastating lasting psychological consequences” found from solitary, that it made inmates “depressed, anxious, socially withdrawn, paranoid and more likely to lash out.”

European examples are helpful for Canada, particularly because their rates of imprisonment are much lower than ours. Some European countries use considerable solitary confinement, but in some there are strict limits. Solitary in Germany cannot exceed four weeks in a year for an inmate, in the Netherlands two weeks.

Recommendations from the B.C. report cited began with how to start the process to abolition or radical reduction: reduce the use of custody at all (Canada’s rates of incarceration are high, although lower than the U.S.); reduce also the numbers in “high security” and pre-trial custody. Diversion programs should be expanded, especially for those with mental illness. If solitary continues to be used, the report recommended the training of staff for “dynamic security,” meaning less confrontational staff-prisoner relations. It advocated also “trauma-informed” correctional practices, since such a large proportion of inmates had themselves suffered abuse (West Coast Prison Justice Society).

Gender and solitary

There are complications by gender for solitary confinement, beginning with the fact that 90% of prisoners in Canada (at all levels) are men. Women prisoners are more likely than men to suffer from some mental illness, and are less often convicted of violent offences. Women prisoners often are mothers, and many give birth while in prison. Baby care is an issue. The voluntary organizations that provide services to, and advocate for, prisoners are split by gender: the John Howard Society for men, the Elizabeth Fry for women. There is apparently an agreement that neither will make recommendations relating to the other gender.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission supports “the end of the use of solitary confinement,” for all federal inmates, beginning with women and those “suffering mental distress.” In 2016, it asked the minister of Public Safety specifically to impose a ban on its use for women, “who more often than not have themselves been victims of abuse” (Landry, 2016).

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies supports the abolition of solitary for women, while the John Howard Society does not support abolition for men, but lesser reforms only. The Disabled Women’s Network supports abolition for women (DAWN/RAFH, 2017).

According to former director of the E Fry societies, now Senator, Kim Pate:

More than 1 in 3 women in federal prisons are indigenous. 91% have histories of abuse. Many also experience disabling mental health issues. We must end the use of segregation/isolation and decarcerate, At a minimum, we must implement Call to Action #30 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

(That recommendation calls for elimination of the over-representation of aboriginal people in custody, with programs and monitoring to that end. Call to Action # 31 specifies adequate funding for programs for community sanctions as alternatives and tackle the causes of offending.)

The Elizabeth Fry societies call for an end to segregation in any form, that is, any separation of prisoners from the general population, not only for solitary, the most extreme form of confinement.

The legal problem is obvious: any legislation ending solitary for one gender (women) would be challenged as discriminatory under human rights acts, federal, provincial and territorial.

The (Ontario) Sapers report recommendations

The Ontario government in 2016 commissioned the federal Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers, to conduct a study of the use of segregation in Ontario. His 194-page report (Ontario, 2017), gives a thorough review of the existing system and its abuses. His detailed recommendations for change would go a long way to ending the worst abuses. The Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Marie-France Lalonde, promptly agreed to their implementation. Key recommendations would:

  • end the use of solitary for the mentally ill, those with serious medical conditions and chronic self-harming behaviour;
  • establish base conditions for 5 categories of inmate, substantially reducing the sensory-deprivation aspects of segregation as now practised.
    1. Disciplinary Unit (for offences in prison, and when waiting for adjudication on serious misconduct)
    2. Protective custody (for those requesting it)
    3. Stabilization (for inmates with mental illness or self-harm, to reintegrate)
    4. Behavioural management (where inmate poses a threat to the safety or security of the institution), by accommodation in smaller groups, not solitary
  • Medical units (where specialized housing required for health needs)
  • The overall limit would be 15 days per stay, a 60-day maximum per 365 day period. However, terms could be longer, even indefinite, with the consent of the minister.

Sapers gave appropriate, serious, attention to health conditions, to make specific recommendations for the provision of fresh air and natural light, and adequate darkness for sleep at night (lights on 24/7 is standard in Canadian solitary). He called for best practice standards in the provision of health care and medical needs.

What’s wrong with the Sapers report? It is known that the harm caused by solitary confinement begins with stays as short as a few days or 48 hours, much less than the 15 days and 60 days proposed. Indefinite solitary would still be possible, with the minister’s signature.

Solitary would still be available as a “disciplinary” measure.

Many of the recommended changes would require significant expenditure, for the renovation of current buildings and building of new facilities, staff increases and increased training.

The Sapers report also related useful American examples of jurisdictions that have radically reduced the use of segregation.

The Ontario government, through its acceptance of the Sapers recommendations, is at least committed to substantial, substantive, improvements; we urge it to take the next step. No other province or territory so far has given any indication of serious change. We intend to approach them all to advocate abolition.

The federal government’s proposed reform, Bill C-56

On 19 June 2017, the federal Minister of Public Safety, the Hon Ralph Goodale, after prevaricating about the need for legislative reform at all, announced some, minimal, reforms. Bill C-65 would seem to institute a new 21-day limit per stay in solitary, to be reduced to 15 days in a year and a half, but discretion is left to wardens and the Commissioner of Corrections to extend the term. There is no stated limit to the number of solitary terms per year. Oversight is limited. The bill, in contrast with the Ontario commitment, would include no ban on solitary for the most vulnerable.

The minister acknowledged 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 United Nations report of 2011 is crystal clear: “the negative consequences of sensory deprivation can be seen as early as 48 hours after segregation” (UN, Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment).

The Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement

Many experts who know the serious consequences of solitary confinement nonetheless hold out the prospect of its reform: minimal standards, independent review of cases and limits to terms. Jackson devised a detailed Model Segregation Code to ensure oversight and procedural fairness. He also discussed the argument (not advocating it) that prisons themselves should be abolished, rather than solitary confinement within them (Jackson, Prisoners of Isolation).

We can see the need to isolate inmates for short periods of time in some cases, but this means hours (24? 36? 48?), not days or weeks, pending the restoration of charges. Where criminal offences have been committed (or deemed to be), criminal penalties are available for serious culprits, the loss of privileges for less serious. Sensory deprivation should not be a penalty, or, disciplinary segregation should be abolished.

Inmates threatening suicide or self-harming should not be placed in solitary. Inmates needing protection from other inmates need protection, but again sensory deprivation should not be the price of it. As per the recommendations of Sapers, programs should be available to such inmates, and various forms of human contact facilitated, by prison visitors, family members, indigenous elders, chaplains.

The Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement is a voluntary organization, formed in May 2017, with abolition the goal, for federal, provincial and territorial prisons, adult and juvenile. Our members include academics (especially social scientists and criminologists), retired judges (current judges cannot take a partisan position), practising lawyers and former MPs.

There is wide support in Canada for the abolition of solitary confinement for juveniles, the mentally ill, pregnant women and new mothers. Most organizations concerned with civil liberties and prisoners’ welfare, however, have gone no further than to call for a ban on use for specific categories of people and limits in terms, often with judicial or other independent oversight.

Our focus for action is on the federal government, which, after prevaricating on the need for legislation at all, committed to some reforms, far short of what we recommend and what the Ontario government has agreed to do. As well, the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act should be amended by adding a prohibition of the use of solitary confinement.

The time has come!

Canada has abolished capital punishment, flogging, hard labour in prisons and bread and water diets. We now seek this next reform. Rehabilitation is the goal of our prison system, and most prisoners will be released eventually.

We note that societies have recognized the need for basic reform in other respects, notably for slavery and child labour. At some point, the purpose evolved from reducing the abuse (less flogging, reduced work hours) to outlawing the act itself. We say the time has now come for Canada to end the use of solitary confinement.


Arbour, Louise. Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston. Ottawa: Public Works & Government Services 1996. (major source on what is wrong in Canadian federal system, with investigation of incidents at Kingston Prison for Women)

Canada. Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator 2015-2016. Ottawa June 30 2016 (report by Howard Sapers to the minister, details over-representation of indigenous inmates, especially women)

College of Family Physicians of Canada. Prison Health, Community of Practice in Family Medicine. Position Statement on Solitary Confinement. Online 7 August 2016. (Official position for abolition of solitary confinement, medical arguments)

DAWN/RAFH. Disabled Women’s Action Network. Women with Disabilities in Canada, Report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the Occasion of the Committee’s Initial Review of Canada, February 2017)

Dickens, Charles. American Notes for General Circulation. London: Chapman & Hall 1842. (Observations on visits to solitary prisons)

Glowa-Kollisch, Sarah, et al. “From Punishment to Treatment: The ‘Clinical Alternative to Punitive Segregation’ (CAPS) Program in New York City Jails.” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 13,2 (2016). (example of clinical treatment as replacement of solitary in New York prisons)

Godwin, William. An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness. Dublin: Luke White 1793.

Goode, Erika. “Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity.” New York Times online 10 March 2012 (examples of U.S. radical reductions in solitary)

Grassian, Stuart. “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement.” Washington University Journal of Law & Policy. 22 (January 2006):325-83. (Major source on mental health effects, mainly U.S.)

House of Commons, Standing committee on Public Safety and National Security, hearing 16 March 2010 (statements on solitary and women’s prisons)

Ignatieff, Michael. A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution 1795-1850. New York: Pantheon 1978. (Good source on history of prisons and isolation)

Jackson, Michael. Prisoners of Isolation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1983 (history of solitary in U.K., U.S. and Canada, court cases on, model code for administrative segregation)
— Justice behind the Walls: Human Rights in Canadian Prisons. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre 2002. (Canadian solitary confinement, with later material)

Kaba, Fatos, et al., “Solitary confinement and risk of self-harm among jail inmates.” American Journal of Public Health 104,3 (2014):442-7. (study of New York prisoners shows association of self-harm with solitary)

Landry, Marie-France. “We Must Put An End to the Use of Solitary Confinement in Federal Prisons.” Huffington Post op-ed, 16 January 2016

Lupick, Travis. “Correctional Service Canada ignores repeated calls for reform on solitary confinement.” Georgia Straight 13 March 2014. (Gives examples on good results from the reduction of solitary)

Martin, Ruth Elwood; Korchinski, Mo; Fels, Lynn and Leggo, Carl, eds. Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health Inside Out. Toronto: Iguana 2014. (Examples of alternative measures in a Canadian women’s prison)

Ontario. Community Safety & Correctional Services. Segregation in Ontario: Independent Review of Ontario Corrections. Queen’s Printer March 2017 (Sapers report, 194 pages of good data and detailed recommendations for limits to solitary for Ontario)

Ontario Human Rights Commission. Submission to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services Provincial Segregation Review 28 May 2015. (Advocates elimination of solitary confinement)

Smith, Peter Schariff. “The Effects of Solitary Confinement on Prison Inmates: A Brief History and Review of the Literature.” Crime & Justice 34,1 (2006):441-528. (Meta study, across many countries, of a large number of reports on the consequences of solitary)

United Nations General Assembly. Resolution 66/150, Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, A/RES/66/150 19 December 2011 (U.N. statement on solitary as torture)

West Coast Prison Justice Society. Solitary: A Case for Abolition. November 2016 online (review of history of solitary, alternatives, with recommendation for abolition)

website: www.abolishsolitary.ca | email: info@abolishsolitary.ca

Limits to solitary confinement: Letter to Yukon’s premier and justice minister

Hon. Sandy Silver, premier;
Hon. Tracy-Anne McPhee, Minister of Justice
2 November 2019

Dear Premier Silver and Ms McPhee
re: Limits to solitary confinement

The Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement was pleased to see your decision to put limits on the use of solitary as stated in the UN Convention. We seek full abolition, but recognize the end of prolonged solitary as an important step.

We urge you to add one further category to the list of complete exemptions (pregnant inmates, etc.), the under-25s. Medical evidence is that the harm done to young people from solitary is worse and more long lasting than for adults, as the brain is still developing. This point was raised by medical experts in the debate over the legalization of cannabis, that the harm done by its use was greater for the under-25s—a point not acted on for obvious practical reasons, but a point clearly relevant here.

We would also point out that the 15-day cap, recognized now in several courts in Canada, is not based on evidence. It was a compromise, an acceptable limit for societies not used to having any limit. Part of the “Mandela Rules,” it should also be noted that Mandela himself never stated that solitary was acceptable if kept under 15 days. He simply said how awful it was. Sadly, there have been numerous cases of suicide, and many of attempted suicide and self-harm among inmates in solitary less than 15 days.

We would, accordingly, encourage you to look at reducing the cap to 10 and 5 days as your next steps. Whether or not you do, your planned legislation should reduce the harm of solitary. We congratulate you on your leadership and look to seeing the results.

Yours sincerely

(co-signed by)

Harry Arthurs, OC, OONt, dean emeritus, Osgoode Hall, president emeritus, York University
Paul Copeland, CM, LLB, life bencher
Hon. John Godfrey, CM, DPhil, former federal Cabinet minister
Hon. Keith Hoilett, retired judge
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon), professor emerita
Very Rev. Lois Wilson, CC, retired senator, former moderator, United Church of Canada

Parts of solitary confinement replacement law to come into effect Nov. 30

Marco Vigliotti | ipolitics.ca | 21 August 2019

Penitentiaries in Canada must adopt the Liberal government’s replacement for solitary confinement in November.

Sections of a new federal law overhauling the rules for solitary confinement, known formally as administrative segregation, will come into force on Nov. 30, as dictated in an order-in-council approved by cabinet this month. They include provisions authorizing penitentiaries to establish structured intervention units (SIUs).

According to the government, inmates placed in SIUs will still retain access to health care and rehabilitative programming, and are entitled to four hours outside of their cells daily, instead of two under the current system, as well as two hours of “meaningful human contact” every day.

The order-in-council also covered sections in the legislation permitting the appointment of independent, external decision-makers, new rules on when strip searches are permitted, and the creation of health-care units in a prison.

Under the new law, the head of the correctional facility must rule on whether to keep a prisoner in an SIU after five days of their admission, and the corrections commissioner would then need to approve of keeping an inmate in an SIU 30 days after that decision and every 60 days afterwards. An external decision-maker appointed by the public safety minister would need to review an inmate’s confinement in an SIU in certain circumstances.

After a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling in June struck down indefinite use of administrative segregation, Ontario Senator Kim Pate said Senate amendments rejected by the Liberals to the new legislation would have ensured it would survive a similar legal challenge because it would have required the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to apply to a superior court in order to keep a prisoner in isolation for more than 48 hours.

However, the Liberals countered that the ruling didn’t make any findings about the constitutionality of the new law, with the ruling specifically mentioning the legislation was not before the court and it would abolish administrative segregation.

In a statement after the legislation received royal assent in June, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the federal government will introduce a “regulatory package” to help implement the act that will establish processes to “provide procedural fairness to inmates, clarify roles and responsibilities, and ensure an open and transparent approach to decisionmaking.”
Infrastructure changes and hiring of staff to implement the bill, he said at the time, are expected to be completed by November, with provisions repealing administrative segregation and introducing SIUs also expected to “be in force by this time.”
Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale, told iPolitics the government is “looking forward to announcing the Implementation Advisory Panel and Independent External Decision-Makers … in the near future.”

The Liberals also claim that the new law will also increase mental health services and Indigenous supports in the correctional space, while bolstering independent oversight of Canada’s correctional system.

Inmates are placed under administrative segregation generally when they are seen as a threat to others in the institution or their safety could be threatened by associating with other inmates.

Calls for reforms grew after 19-year-old Ashley Smith died by suicide in 2007 after spending over 1,000 days in solitary confinement.

Federal correctional investigator Ivan Zinger said the Canadian Corrections Services almost halved the number of inmates in administrative segregation over the past seven years, dropping from 710 in 2011 to 341 in 2018.

However, he warned in an interview with iPolitics last fall that the government’s replacement could lead to more prisoners landing in “segregation-lite” conditions.

Inmates who have been put into transitional units, secure units or special-needs units have a “very restrictive routine,” along with lengthy times spent in the cell, Zinger said, cautioning that the new law is a “widening of the net of those restrictive environments.”

“There’s no procedural safeguard,” he argued.

“We may end up with a regime that touches more people and that is very restrictive.”

The legislation was passed by the Senate in the spring after the addition of several late-stage amendments.

Among the changes approved by the governing Liberals were requiring a mental health assessment of all inmates within 30 days of admission into federal custody and within 24 hours of being moved to an SIU, and rearranging a section of the bill to emphasize the possibility of transferring inmates to outside hospitals.

* The first sentence in the story has been changed to clarify that work is already underway at penitentiaries to adhere to the new corrections law.

MPP introduces bill to end solitary confinement in Ontario

CBC News · Posted: May 09, 2019 4:00 AM ET

An Ottawa MPP is introducing a private member’s bill designed to gradually eliminate the use of solitary confinement in Ontario’s correctional institutions.

Ottawa-Vanier MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers wants to create a five-year plan to gradually phase out the practice.

Before that happens, her bill, if passed, would also prohibit inmates from spending more than 60 days a year in solitary confinement, require medical staff to provide daily care to those inmates, and create an independent oversight body that would oversee the use of solitary confinement.

At a news conference Wednesday at Queen’s Park, Des Rosiers said prison inmates should pay their debt to society — but not at the expense of their potential for rehabilitation.

“This aspiration is fundamentally at odds with our continued unconstitutional use of prolonged solitary confinement,” Des Rosiers said.

“Far from the spirit of rehabilitation, solitary confinement needlessly damages people, makes reintegration difficult and has exacerbated the mental health crisis.”

‘Cruel and unusual’

The Liberal MPP’s bill comes approximately one month after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that extended solitary confinement “outrages standards of decency and amounts to cruel and unusual treatment.”

In that ruling, the province’s top court prohibited inmates from spending more than 15 days in a row in solitary confinement.

Des Rosiers said Wednesday her bill was designed to reflect the spirit of that ruling, while also going “a bit further.”

“[Solitary confinement] has been proven over and over to cause serious psychological impact,” she told CBC Radio’s All In A Day.

“And the fact that the courts have ruled it as cruel and unusual punishment expresses the way in which it’s not a practice we should keep in our toolbox.”

Violence against guards a concern

However, OPSEU Local 411, the union representing guards at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, has linked the ongoing modernization of the rules around segregation in Ontario corrections facilities to a spike in violence against guards.

Des Rosiers acknowledged those were legitimate concerns, and told All In A Day that she’d like to see the union be part of the conversation around what would replace solitary confinement.

“There are lots of avenues to create some different spaces, some ways in which people can be supported … without being locked down for 22 hours [a day],” Des Rosiers said.

“It leads to no good outcomes for them — or for our society.”

The federal government has also introduced Bill C-83, which purports to eliminate solitary confinement, but some critics have called the bill merely a cosmetic rebranding of the current situation.

The bill was adopted by the House of Commons and is now before the Senate.

To Sylvia Jones, minister of correctional services (Ontario)

Hon. Sylvia Jones MPP
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services
February 27, 2019

Dear Ms Jones

We heartily endorse the call by Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to end solitary confinement in Ontario.

Since its inception in 2016, our organization has endorsed abolition. We do not see that partial measures will eliminate the horrendous injustices that occur. The over-representation of Indigenous inmates (already over-represented in the prison population), and use of solitary with the mentally ill and young have been known about for decades.

Solitary should not be treated as a politically partisan matter. These cases (Ashley Smith and Adam Capay and too many others) have occurred under both Liberal and P.C. governments.

The previous government saw to the adoption of new legislation, which has the prospect of reducing suicides, attempted suicides, and mental illness (new and exacerbated). However, as the Capay case has shown, provisions for reviewing cases can easily be ignored. In the tragic Ashley Smith case (her original offence: throwing crabapples at a postman), it was a trained psychologist who directed correctional officers not to enter her (solitary) cell and stop her from committing suicide.

Neither health care practitioners nor reviewers of cases have shown the necessary ability to detect which inmates might commit suicide and intervene.

The statistics contained in the Fegeau decision on Capay are disturbing: a substantial number of Ontario cases beyond the 15-day limit that the United Nations terms “torture.” The evidence of long-term harm and increased recidivism from solitary also point to the need for abolition.

Short of immediate abolition, we suggest that significant improvements could be made by:

  • its complete elimination for young people under 25, whose developing brains are more severely impacted by solitary; we note that a number of American jurisdictions have done this;
  • its complete elimination for pregnant women and nursing mothers.
  • immediate imposition of a 10-day limit on solitary, to be amended to 5 days at a fixed time.

Details that have appeared in the Capay material suggest the need for better training of correctional officers. We propose that the province encourage the establishment of college certificate courses for correctional officers–not given by the Ministry–but recognized by the Ministry with a higher rate of pay and rank.

Yours sincerely

Christopher Adamson, PhD, sociologist
Helen Breslauer, PhD, sociologist (retired)
Phyllis Creighton, OOnt, MA, editor
Paul Copeland, CM, LLB, life bencher
Stephanie DiGiuseppe, JD, barrister and solicitor
John Godfrey, CM, PC, Dphil, former MP
Susan James, MA, international development professional
David Kilgour, JD, former prosecutor and Cabinet minister
Robert Lackey, B.A., B.Ed. (retired)
Judith McCormack, LLM, former assistant dean of law
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon), professor emerita
Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg, MES, PhD, lecturer
Frans Schryer, PhD, professor emeritus
Bev Swerling, M.A., guidance counsellor
Rebecca Thornhill, PhD, cardiology technician
David Walsh, MBA, real estate developer
Helen Hansen, Tim Ellis, Elina Korchagina

Please reply to info@abolishsolitary.ca

Copy to chief commissioner, OHRC

To Ralph Goodale on Bill C-83

Hon Ralph Goodale, MP
Minister of Public Safety
January 29, 2019
cc: all federal MPs

Dear Mr Goodale

We appreciated meeting with Arif Virani, MP, Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and understand that he has conveyed our views to you. We urge you to redraft Bill C-83. We do not believe that it will stand the test in court, and have every reason to believe that civil liberties organizations will take you to court on it.

Yes, four hours out of cell sounds a lot better than one or two, and should reduce the number of suicides, attempts, mental deterioration and self harm that typically result from solitary confinement. However, there is no evidence that four hours is a safe limit. Nor can we expect that inmates will get it: lockdowns are frequent and result in inmates not leaving their cells at all, even for an hour. We also realize that your department does not track this.

The whole “structured intervention unit” concept is a guess. Who has tried it? Your bill would permit any existing prison or part of a prison to be designated a “structured intervention unit,” so how will it be any improvement, for mental health and rehabilitation purposes?

We strongly recommend that you, instead, work on measures known to help: reduce the numbers sent to solitary (you have done this before–try more).

  • Make a firm exception for solitary for those under 25 years of age. It is known that the brains of persons under 25 are still developing, so that young inmates are liable to long-term damage from solitary.
  • Amend the classification system–no legislation required. Get rid of the “food slot” for communications. Such may be needed for extreme cases, but most inmates in solitary are not there because they are a danger to correctional officers, but because they fear harm to themselves, or have caused some kind of difficulty short of violence. Currently, to open the door of solitary cell requires the presence of 3 officers, 2 at the door, and one at a short distance away. Hardly necessary for most solitary inmates. Classify! To move an inmate in solitary requires the use of shackles–again, hardly necessary for someone who is no threat to others but fears for his own safety. Refine your regulations!
  • Better training for correctional officers. We recommend that CSC facilitate the creation of a certificate programme, to be given at a regular college, not connected with the department. However, this will require the department recognizing and rewarding the earning of such a certificate. Correctional officers are being called on to do more by way of rehabilitation–they need more training to do this. Current practice is rudimentary. Training is needed.

Yours sincerely

Michael Adorjan, PhD, associate professor, University of Calgary
Harry Arthurs, OC, OONt, dean and president emeritus, York University
Augustine Brannigan, professor, University of Calgary
Michael J. Bryant, LLM, executive director, CCLA
Ann Cameron, PhD, professor emerita of developmental psychology
Maxwell A. Cameron, PhD, professor of political science, UBC
Robert Clark, B,A., B.Ed., former deputy warden
Paul Copeland, CM, LLB, life bencher
Canon Phyllis Creighton, OOnt, MA, editor
Stephanie DiGiuseppe, barrister and solititor
Margaret Ferguson, B.Ed.
Catherine Fogarty, president, executive producer, Big Coat Media
Owen Gallupe, PhD, assistant professor, criminology
Hon John Godfrey, CM, former MP and Cabinet minister
Hon Keith Hoilett
David Kilgour, JD, former prosecutor and Cabinet minister
Suzette Mafuna, B.A. (hon.)
Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon), professor emerita
Philip Rosen, BA, BCL, retired legal policy analyst
Susan Reid, PhD, professor of criminology, St Thomas’ University
Robert A. Stebbins, PhD, FRSC, professor emeritus
Bev Swerling, MEd, retired guidance counsellor, Toronto
Ian Wadell, QC, former MP
David Walsh, MBA, real estate developer
Andrew Woolford, professor, Dept. of Sociology and Criminology
Lois Wilson, CC, retired senator, former moderator, United Church of Canada

Comments on Bill C-83

Comments on Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and conditional Release Act and another Act, by the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement, Paul Copeland, CM, LLB, life bencher, and Lynn McDonald, CM, PhD, LLD (hon, professor emerita.

Introduction: Members of the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement are unconvinced of the government’s claim that “structured intervention units” will bring about the abolition of solitary confinement as claimed by the minister, or come close to that goal. The language is different, but there is nothing to ensure that the new measures (1) will be implemented properly (too many loopholes in practices, and failure to monitor); (2) even if implemented, that 2 hours of “meaningful human contact” will suffice to prevent mental deterioration, suicides and self-harm; and (3) can work without independent oversight.

The over-representation of Indigenous persons in the prison population generally, and in solitary in particular, is a continuing disgrace. We do not see this being remedied without abolition. Certainly recommendations from coroners’ reports and inquiries over the year intended to address these injustices have not been implemented.

Bill C-83’s stipulated four hours out of cell is clearly better than 1-2 hours, and should result in diminished mental deterioration, suicides, attempts, etc., but evidence is lacking that this time period (assuming it actually happens) will work. Can the minister cite examples in other jurisdictions that have used this provision and found improved results? We are aware of no evidence that being out of cell 4 hours a day is adequate to prevent the same mental deterioration, etc., and are aware of the numerous times that the out-of-cell time simply does not happen.

Pending acceptance of the abolition of solitary confinement, we recommend:

  1. The exception of inmates under 25 years of age, as people of that age, with brains still developing, are especially vulnerable to mental harm.
  2. The exception of inmates with mental illness; solitary should only be used as a temporary measure pending transfer to a health-care unit.
  3. The addition of a monitoring measure in Bill C-83 to ensure that the length of time in solitary is noted and reviewed.
  4. Amendment to preclude a “visit” entailing an inquiry of a correctional officer, or a peak through a food slot.

We see this bill as a step required by court rulings, but non adequate response to the issues of over-representation of Indigenous persons and the need to shift mentally ill inmates into treatment.

Reality check: The mandated “health care” visits conducted are not necessarily a visit. The health care worker may simply stop and ask the correctional officer on duty if any inmate has requested a meeting. If the answer is “No,” the health care person then leaves.

Reality check: Meaningful human contact for two hours a day, out of four hours out-of-cell. It is unclear how this will actually happen. CSC regards a quick exchange through a food slot to constitute “meaningful human contact.” We believe that meaningful human contact must include visual contact. The food slot approach must go. That a correctional officer or health care or other visitor must stoop down to a level like a mail slot effectively discourages visual contact. The food slot is a proven way to avoid meaningful human contact. Changes in the infrastructure are required: the mail slot/meal slot must go.

Realistic Classification. The use of solitary confinement, aka administrative segregation, is marred by the inappropriate classification of inmates. One size fits all. Hence inmates who request solitary for fear of attack are treated like inmates who have actually attacked someone or threatened to. Currently, there must be two correctional officers at the cell door whenever it is opened, and one to observe from a distance, to be able to call for assistance. This adds greatly to the cost of running solitary.

There is no reason why an inmate who is pursuing high school upgrading, who requests solitary because of a threat from another inmate, should have to give up that useful program. An inmate who can be trusted to be in a prison library, with staff and other inmates, for educational purposes should hardly need to be shackled and accompanied by two correctional officers to be moved anywhere. A dangerous inmate, yes, but why all inmates?

In fact, only about 2% of inmates in solitary are there for “disciplinary” reasons, i.e., an offence, and the use of solitary for such purposes is to end anyway under Bill C-83.

The classification system needs to be amended. This can be done short of legislation, but without such provision the current bill is inadequate.

About us: The Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement is a voluntary organization founded in 2016 to work for the complete abolition of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, federal, provincial and territorial. Its members include law professors, criminal and immigration lawyers, retired judges, former Members of Parliament, criminologists, teachers, and university academics. See www.abolishsolitary.ca

The provisions of sections on health care professionals, advocacy services and access to recordings seem to be reasonable and we support them.

It is time to end solitary confinement

Lynn McDonald | Policy Options / Options politiques | 25 July 2018

It is widely agreed that Canada’s use of solitary confinement is excessive, in both federal (inmates with sentences of two years or more) and provincial prisons (under two years). I choose to use the term “solitary confinement,” although prison authorities prefer the more innocuous “administrative segregation.” Solitary confinement entails lack of meaningful human contact and sensory deprivation. It costs lives (40 percent of prison suicides take place in solitary), results in increased self-harm and suicide attempts, and causes or exacerbates mental illness. First Nations inmates and mentally ill prisoners are disproportionately selected. Moreover, solitary confinement does not make correctional institutions safer for staff or inmates, and the cost per inmate is higher for solitary than for the general population.

The federal government has had to answer for its use of solitary in two lawsuits that were launched in 2015; the Ontario case was decided in December 2017 and the British Columbia case in January 2018. The judges in both largely rejected the evidence brought by Correctional Service Canada (CSC). Yet the two decisions are under appeal.

The government has responded to rising criticism by reducing its use of solitary to roughly half of what it was three years earlier. It brought Bill C-56, An Act to Amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole Act, to the House of Commons. It would introduce some safeguards, but with loopholes, the worst being the power given to wardens to overrule limits. The Bill itself is on hold (it was never debated) while the appeals are proceeding.

The Ontario government under Premier Kathleen Wynne responded more vigorously to criticism of its poor record by hiring former federal corrections investigator Howard Sapers to review its practices and recommend changes. It then acted promptly on his recommendations, which were both numerous and comprehensive and which featured limits and reviews on the use of solitary. Bill 6, the Correctional Services Transformation Act, 2018, passed just before the legislature was dissolved for the June 7, 2018, provincial election. What will happen now is not clear, as Progressive Conservative MPPs voted against the bill, while the NDP supported it.

The Act is based on the belief that the system can be fixed by implementing tighter rules, more reviews and better oversight by health care professionals to identify suicidal inmates and those deteriorating badly and get them out of solitary in time. But there is no evidence that such confidence in health care professionals is merited. In the tragic example of Ashley Smith, the teenager who strangled herself in her cell in 2007, it was a psychologist who decided that her repeated suicidal gestures were attention-getting stunts and ordered correctional officers not to enter her cell to stop her.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2017 called for no less than an end to the practice of segregation, arguing for interim measures of “strict time limits and external oversight to reduce the harm of segregation on vulnerable prisoners.” The Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement calls for the abolition of solitary as a disciplinary measure and for the abolition of all versions of “administrative” segregation. The campaign has no confidence in partial measures to protect vulnerable prisoners.

How much solitary is too much?

The United Nations’ Mandela Rules, named after Nelson Mandela, who knew solitary from sad personal experience, stipulate a maximum of 15 days at a stretch. This was never Mandela’s recommendation; he is on record only as saying that he found solitary “the most forbidding aspect of prison life.” The 15-day rule seems to have been a compromise, proposed by the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez (another solitary survivor), as the way to end prolonged and indefinite solitary terms. His statement that over 15 days’ solitary constitutes “torture” has been adopted by most countries. It is the cornerstone of both Canadian federal and provincial policy. Méndez’s report, however, makes it clear that the harm can start at two days, and there never has been any evidence that 15 days is in any way a valid marker.

The Canadian court cases have been about prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement, the worst possible scenario for inmates. Some First Nations inmates have been effectively lost in the system for hundreds of days. Indigenous inmates form 26.4 percent of federal inmates, although they are under 5 percent of the population. The Indigenous Women’s Association reports that in 2015-16 Indigenous women made up “42% of the maximum security women’s population in Canada, and 50% of segregation placements.”

Black Canadians are also overrepresented both in prison and in solitary. The same applies to mentally ill inmates, yet undertakings to end the use of solitary for them are routinely subverted. The definitions of “seriously mentally ill” are narrow. The preferred option of sending the mentally ill to health care agencies is rarely used.

In June 2018, Prisoners’ Legal Services of Vancouver launched a new challenge to Correctional Service Canada, in a human rights case arguing against the use of solitary for mentally ill inmates. Given the narrow definition of “seriously mentally ill” used by CSC, many inmates are in fact locked up, in solitary or observation cells, put in restraints and pepper sprayed. Observation cells, noted a First Nations inmate, are worse than ordinary segregation: stripped down to an anti-suicide smock and mattress, with constant observation and no therapy.

Can the system be fixed?

Numerous civil society organizations think the system can be fixed. The lawsuits undertaken by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the BC Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society focused on prolonged solitary; they have not argued that solitary is wrong in itself. A recently formed Coalition on Reforming Segregation in Ontario’s Correctional Institutions again assumes that limits and reviews will work, and that solitary is not in itself wrong.

But safeguards already exist, in both federal and provincial legislation; clearly they are not sufficient. Solitary is supposed to be used only as a last resort, when there is “no reasonable alternative,” and inmates are supposed to be let out “at the earliest appropriate time.” No doubt, the 15-day limits will reduce the amount of suicides, attempted suicides, self-mutilation and mental deterioration, but we must expect that these harms will continue. The 15-day limit is based on pure supposition.

Despite overwhelming evidence, few organizations geared to civil liberties or prison reform have so far opted for abolition. Canada has abolished the use of capital punishment, corporal punishment and a bread-and-water diet as deterrents to crime. Officially, all our prison systems are intended to be rehabilitative. Most prisoners will eventually be released into society. Solitary confinement is an anomaly in an otherwise relatively humane system.

The Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement was formed in May 2017, to advance the goal of abolition. It holds that lesser measures will not suffice, although limits and reviews will reduce harm and are better than the status quo. The campaign presented a brief in March 2018 to the Ontario legislative committee reviewing Bill 6, calling for full abolition while supporting the improvements in the Bill. The brief also unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to widen the ban on solitary that applies to pregnant women and nursing mothers to include inmates under 25 years old, on the grounds that their brains are still developing and that solitary could do lasting harm.

Before this campaign was launched, only one Canadian organization, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, had called for full abolition (the Elizabeth Fry Societies have called for abolition for women inmates). The time has come to end this barbaric practice forever and for all.

Lynn McDonald is professor emerita of sociology and a former member of Parliament (New Democratic Party). Her private member’s bill, the Non-smokers’ Health Act, 1988, was the first legislation in the world to establish smoke-free work and public places.

The Medical Role in Solitary Confinement

British Medical Association (BMA) | Updated 2018-04-18 | see https://www.bma.org.uk/collective-voice/policy-and-research/equality/the-medical-role-in-solitary-confinement for full resources and downloads

Guidance for doctors on the use of solitary confinement in the youth secure estate

View looking through security inspection window to a detained prisoner in a modern UK prison cell with locked door (photo source: BMA)

Isolation, segregation, separation, removal from association, single unlock: these names are used, often interchangeably, across detention settings to describe the practice of solitary confinement, where an individual is physically and socially isolated from others for a prolonged period of time.

Its use is widespread in the youth justice system in the United Kingdom, where it is estimated that up to 38 per cent of boys in detention have spent time in solitary confinement, with stays of over 80 days being reported. Compounding this is a growing practice of holding children in conditions of solitary confinement in their own cells or rooms for upwards of 22 hours a day – largely as a result of staff shortages and increased violence in the youth justice system.

There is clear evidence that solitary confinement can have a profound, and lasting, adverse impact on health and wellbeing. As a result, we do not believe that its use can ever be sanctioned on children and young people.

It is clear, however, that as long as the practice continues, the youth justice system must ensure that the health needs of those in solitary confinement are met.

Read more (BMA website)

Reply from Minister Lalonde

Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
Office of the Minister
25 Grosvenor 18th floor Toronto ON M7A Tel: 416-325-0408 MCSCS.Feedback@ontario.ca

Apr 09 2018                        By e-mail

Dear Dr. McDonald and Colleagues:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding recommendations for corrections reform. I appreciate the feedback provided and the collective insight which you and your colleagues have shared.

Ontario is working hard to modernize the justice system to make it more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of people across the province. As part of this modernization, my ministry will continue to move forward with the changes that are necessary to transform Ontario’s correctional services to create a system that is modern, focused on prevention, community-based and people-centred.

On February 20, 2018, I introduced Bill 195, the Correctional Services Transformation Act. Given the prorogation of the Legislature on March 16, 2018, the proposed legislation was reintroduced as Bill 6, the Correctional Services Transformation Act on March 21, 2018. If passed, Bill 6 will become the foundation for the boldest transformation of our corrections system in a generation. Our proposed changes are the result of tireless work with corrections staff, partners and several comprehensive expert reviews.

Our shared goal has always been the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals within our system. This proposed legislation would result in better support and care for those in our custody, and improved outcomes for those under our supervision.

The proposed legislation, if passed, would modernize corrections by:

  • Setting rules around, and clearly defining, segregation by aligning with international standards and phasing out its use for vulnerable individuals.
  • Improving conditions of confinement by requiring minimum living standards that would apply to all adult inmates and bringing consistency to the system.
  • Increasing transparency and accountability by establishing an independent Inspector General to ensure compliance with the legislation and all policies.
  • Clearly defining via legislation, the health care services that incarcerated individuals should have access to, including treatment of disease or injury, health promotion, disease prevention, dental care, vision care, mental health and addictions care, and traditional Indigenous healing and medicines.
  • Better supporting rehabilitation and reintegration by requiring individualized, evidencebased assessments for every inmate.

In order to be successful in the coming years, our government has implemented the right supports, which has included more front-line staff, such as health care staff and 2,000 new correctional officers. In addition, there will be increased mental health support through the addition of new mental health nurses and enhanced staff training.

As part of our corrections transformation strategy, we are working with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) to transform health care services in correctional facilities. This will include exploring options to shift oversight and the provision of health care services to MOHLTC to improve health outcomes for correctional clients. Providing health care services for those with complex needs and ensuring continuity of care for those entering and leaving our system are key priorities.

These measures are part of our vision for a system that is built around dignity, human rights and accountability. We will continue working together with our dedicated correctional staff and partners to make this transformation a reality.

Thank you again for your e-mail.


Marie-France Lalonde Minister