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.