The use of solitary confinement has been a hotly debated issue in Canada and abroad, where the conditions and duration of confinement have been the subject of much scrutiny. According to data released by Correctional Service Canada (CSC), “as of May 15, 2017 [i]t shows 404 people were in segregation on that date, and that 22 had been there for more than 100 days.” UN Standards establish that individuals should not be kept in solitary confinement for a period longer than 15 days, beyond which is considered torture. However, there are numerous stories of Canadians being in solitary confinement for months to years. Several individuals have committed suicide after spending prolonged periods in segregation, which has spurred inquests and outcries for hard limits on or outright elimination of solitary confinement. On April 24, 2017, Guy Langlois died in a New Brunswick institution, after having spent 118 consecutive days in solitary confinement. Langlois, 38-years-old and Metis, had spent the past 18 years incarcerated and had suffered significant mental health issues. Indigenous persons are disproportionately represented in Canada’s prison population, and a history of mental health issues is a common feature of individuals held in segregation.
In a recent report, CBC revealed that Atlantic Canada is putting more federal inmates in segregation than any other region in Canada, at five percent of the prison population being held in solitary confinement. Atlantic Canada also holds claim to some of the longest periods of time spent in segregation, since one third of all inmates in Canada who have been in solitary confinement for over 100 days are located in the Atlantic provinces. Gang rivalries in prison are often cited as reasons for putting inmates in segregation, however Atlantic Canada does not experience significant issues with gangs. CSC could not explain why Atlantic Canada demonstrated such high rates of solitary confinement, but “spokesperson Avely Serin said inmates are placed in segregation based on factors such as risk, human behaviour or not having adequate options to transfer inmates. She added that some institutions may be more prone to security incidents.”
There are concerns that correctional facilities are not applying policies that govern the use of segregation consistently across the country. Decisions to put someone in segregation and keep them there are subject to few constraints, accountability, or oversight. While CSC has published a draft of a new policy to govern administrative segregation, it is yet to be seen whether it would sufficiently address all of the current issues surrounding the use of solitary confinement.
This blog post was written by a CCLA summer student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.