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

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.

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


  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


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 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 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: 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: 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.

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: