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.

An Irish strategy for ending solitary confinement

Excerpted from ‘Behind the Door’: Solitary Confinement in the Irish Penal System. Irish Penal Reform Trust, 2018

1. Elimination of the use of solitary confinement:

1.1 The Minister for Justice and Equality should develop and consult on a Strategy for the Elimination of Solitary Confinement based upon principles of decarceration.

1.2 The Irish Prison Service should ensure, as a minimum, full compliance with the Mandela Rules and should amend its policy on ‘the elimination of solitary confinement’ (IPS, 2017) accordingly.

1.3 The Irish Prison Service should set the minimum out-of-cell time at 8 hours per day. Additionally, a target should be set of at least 12 hours’ out-of-cell time per prisoner per day, based upon meaningful human contact and access to services and activities.

1.4 The term ‘meaningful human contact’ should be defined as contact with family and peers; interactions with professionals, staff or volunteers within the prison system should not be used as a substitute for such contact.

1.5 Separation of a prisoner from others should not be permitted for reasons of punishment, but only for reasons of safety in emergency situations, and for the shortest possible period of time.

1.6 The placement in solitary confinement of adults with mental health difficulties or mental or physical disabilities should be prohibited.

1.7 The placement in solitary confinement of pregnant or breastfeeding women prisoners or mothers with babies should be prohibited.

1.8 Adequate community mental health services should be provided, including access to psychiatric beds, to ensure that no one is detained in prison who would be more appropriately accommodated in mental health facilities.

1.9 The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should provide, as a matter of urgency, statutory rules governing detention of children. In line with the most recent Concluding Observations by the UN Committee against Torture, such rules should include an absolute prohibition of the use of solitary confinement for children.

2. Separation for reasons of protection:

2.1 The Irish Prison Service should research and develop a range of initiatives to address violence in prisons. These may include, but should not be limited to, restorative justice approaches and weapons amnesties.

2.2 The IPS should ensure all staff are trained on the impact of solitary confinement and restricted regimes as well as in conflict management techniques such as de-escalation

2.3 Prisoners being placed, or requesting to be placed, on a restricted regime for their own protection should be given information, in accessible language, about the implications of such placement including details of the restricted access to education, vocational training, association, etc.

2.4 Where a prisoner requests to be kept on protection for an extended period, this should be kept under constant review.

2.5 Special supports should be put in place to encourage prisoners to come off a restricted regime where it is assessed as safe to do so, including access to a step-down programme.

2.6 Prisoners on protection or other restricted regimes should be provided with meaningful access to work, training and education, as well as other activities and services. As far as possible this should be in association with other prisoners.

2.7 Prisoners on restricted regimes should have increased access to family contact, through telephone and visits.

2.8 The Prison Rules 2007 should be further amended to include regular examination of prisoners isolated under Rule 63 by a prison doctor. Such examination should include both physical and mental health assessment by appropriately trained medical personnel.

3. Access to justice:

3.1 There should be a mandatory notification provided to their solicitors where prisoners are placed on Rule 62 and Rule 6 3. Prisoners should also be informed that they have the right to contact their solicitor and should be given an opportunity to do so as soon as practicable.

3.2 There should be a mandatory notification to a legal representative in cases of placement in Safety Observation Cells and Close Supervision Cells, regardless of the length of time for which such placement is envisaged.

3.3 The situation of prisoners held in isolation and/or subjected to a restricted regime should continue to be afforded particular attention by the Inspector of Prisons, including through thematic inspections. The Government should provide the Office of the Inspector of Prisons with appropriate resources to enable it to fulfil its mandate in this regard.

3.4 Prisoners held in isolation and/or subjected to a restricted regime should have strengthened access to independent complaints mechanisms and should be afforded appropriate assistance to avail of those mechanisms.

4. Collection and publication of statistics:

4.1 The Irish Prison Service should regularly collect and publish data relating to the length of time prisoners spend on restricted regimes in all prisons.

4.2 Data relating to repeated and multiple placements of the same prisoner(s) on restricted regimes should be collected, in particular where such repeated placements concern prisoners with mental health difficulties and those segregated for reasons of discipline.

4.3 Separate statistics for Limerick (male) and Limerick (female) prisons, should be provided.

4.4 The Irish Prison Service should disaggregate data by other characteristics, including ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and disability, to enable monitoring for potential disproportionate use of restricted regimes among particular groups.

Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin speaks with Georgia Straight about solitary confinement

Interview with CCPHE Director Dr. Ruth Martin in a 2014 Georgia Straight article “Correctional Service Canada ignores repeated calls for reform on solitary confinement,” the third and final article in a 3-part series: