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