Time to end this regressive practice
As Canadians, we pride ourselves on being defenders of human rights, a multicultural society that models diversity and tolerance for the global community. Collectively, we agree on the importance of eliminating racism and providing equal social and economic opportunities for everyone. Canadians advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay & non-binary individuals, for disabled persons, children, immigrants & refugees, and the protection of the animals, the environment and wilderness spaces. But, somehow the basic human rights of incarcerated individuals rarely make it onto this list. I can buy cosmetics guaranteed to have not harmed an animal in testing, and that is a good thing. But, it seems to me we have exerted more resources establishing, maintaining, and investigating the rights and protections of animals than we have for those individuals living in the corrections system.
Referred to, disingenuously, as segregation, solitary confinement is a form of state sanctioned mental torture that humiliates and damages inmates and, I would argue, corrections staff alike. It is not possible to perform and monitor acts of cruelty, such as lengthy periods of solitary confinement, without those acts also demeaning the individuals who impose and supervise them. We need to end the shameful practice of solitary, which too often ends in attempted suicide. At the same time, we need to support corrections staff with adequate training and resources inside these institutions.
It is hard to imagine today, but in the 1800s, hangings were public events in Canada that attracted citizen spectators. Thankfully, we have evolved, eliminated the death penalty, and become a more enlightened society. Since then, decades of social science research has proved that punishment does not change human behavior for the better.
In the current era of pampered pets, some dogs and cats enjoy extra-thick mattresses, expensive treats, and even anxiety medication for post-traumatic stress diagnoses. If we care about animal welfare that much, then surely we can end a practice that denigrates human beings, exacerbates mental illness, and provides no benefits.
Solitary confinement is a primitive form of punishment that degrades us all, and it is time to end this regressive practice.
— Mary Theresa Kelly
North Okanagan, British Columbia
If we are committed to creating a just society…
Prisons are complex institutions. While some prisoners may pose difficulties for prison staff, solitary confinement is a needlessly excessive form of punishment that very quickly becomes a form of torture. Mounting international evidence demonstrates the devastating short and long-term effects of social isolation on individual physical and mental health. If we are committed to creating a just society, then the willful and intentional isolation of any person from meaningful contact with others is a form of punishment that has no place in Canada.
— Mervyn Horgan
Assistant Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, University of Guelph
Even fifteen days is too long
Helen Hansen, an activist on justice issues in Guelph, Ontario, sent the following letter to her own MPP, Liz Sandals, on October 10, 2017:
Dear Ms Sandals
I am a mother and grandmother who is concerned about justice for prisoners and others.
May I urge that your government abolish solitary confinement — even fifteen days is too long.
Also, another matter of unjust punishment is 24-hour lights on. In my view this is unusual and severely crude treatment.
Surely harsh treatment will not encourage a prisoner/offender to reform.
In some circumstances a prisoner may be innocent of an offence — something to bear in mind.
I would be grateful to know your views
— Helen Hansen
Abolish the use of solitary confinement in our prisons
I practised law in the province of Ontario for 50 years. A significant part of my practice was in criminal law. In the early years of my practice, with a few other lawyers, I did a significant amount of work for the inmates in Millhaven Penitentary. One of the cases I did was an inquest into the suicide in solitary confinement of an inmate named Eddie Nalon. In the summer of 1974 Eddie was serving a life sentence for murder. At the suggestion of a guard as to how to change the range he was on, Eddie refused to work and was placed in segregation. His case was up before the segregation review board after the first week he was in solitary. They did not deal with his case. His case was dealt with by the segregation review board after his second week in segregation. He was ordered released from segregation but they did not convey that information to Eddy. He committed suicide that night.
What is known as Prison Justice Day commemorates Eddie’s death in segregation.
Recently a report was released by the Ontario government done by Howard Sapers, the former federal correctional investigator, on solitary confinement. Another report was issued by the present federal correctional investigator Ivan Zinger. Both reports call for very drastic reduction in the use of solitary confinement.
I do not believe that either of those reports go far enough and that is why I’ve joined this group seeking to abolish the use of solitary confinement in our prisons, both provincially and federally.
— Paul Copeland
Why I support a ban on solitary confinement
The very concept of being placed alone, locked in a room with no freedom to come out, lights on, observation of my every action possible through a window, contact with the outside restricted to food being passed in, nothing to do—sensory deprivation– sends shivers down my spine. I can think of no more likely result of such an experience than mental, psychological, emotional unhinging, only the length of time for personal disintegration differing from one prisoner to another. Breaking someone’s spirit is a morally despicable act. Since most prisoners will be released into society, it is against reason to subject such persons – who may well be more difficult prisoners — to such an experience. Flashbacks to it may render difficult or impossible any semblance of normal life. If reintegration of prisoners into society is our goal, solitary confinement is patently counterproductive. Given that a high percentage of prisoners reportedly suffer from mental illness of one kind or another, it is indeed folly. On these intuitive and rational grounds, I reject solitary confinement, and seek more constructive solutions to the problems it is used for. Violent, out of control prisoners representing a danger to guards and other prisoners must be subjected to controls, but solitary confinement is a destructive solution. We need to address the real task.
— Phyllis Creighton
The time is now
More than 1/3 of women in federal prisons in Canada are Indigenous. 91% have histories of abuse. Many also experience disabling mental health issues and most are poor.
Urgent need for Action: The Time Is Now. We must end the criminalization, isolation and imprisonment.
Implement Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 30 and stop jailing Indigenous women.
In Sisterhood with women inside and Elizabeth Fry Societies across Canada
— Hon. Kim Pate, Senator, former director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
I cannot tell to those in hell
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
— Jack McCann (quoted in Michael Jackson, Prisoners of Isolation)
Solitary confinement: “the bitterest torment that human ingenuity can inflict”
— William Godwin (An Inquiry into Political Justice, Book 7, chapter VI)