A policy for offenders serving intermittent sentences is creating a dangerous situation at a New Brunswick jail. An offender sentenced to a term of 90 days or less may qualify to serve their sentence intermittently, meaning they can serve their time on weekends. Intermittent sentences aim to “strike a legislative balance between the denunciatory and deterrent functions of ‘real jail time’ and the rehabilitative functions of preserving the offender’s employment, family relationships, and responsibilities, and obligations to the community .
Inmates serving intermittent sentences at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre are presently finding themselves double-bunked in solitary confinement cells at the facility. Usually, this unit used as a punishment for members of the prison population who cannot conform to the rules of the institution. Solitary confinement cells are very small, built for one person with no windows and very little space. For weekend offenders in Saint John, one inmate must sleep on a mattress on the floor while the other sleeps on the bed. While in this unit, offenders are subject to the usual punitive rules of administrative segregation, on hold in their cells for 23.5 hours of the day! Currently, there is space at the jail for these offenders. A 22-unit cell block is being kept vacant to save the facility costs.
“The cell is extremely small, so if an inmate has to get up in the middle of the night to use the washroom then, of course, there’s not much room, they pretty much step all over the bed of the other inmate lying on the floor.”
The practice of double bunking has come under fire in recent years because of the increased risk of violence associated with it. This procedure presents an increased danger to guards and inmates alike. Solitary confinement (or administrative segregation as its referred to in some literature) has been decried increasingly in recent years due to the adverse psychological effects it has on a prisoner’s mental health. Numerous instances of suicide and self-harm have occurred because of the use solitary confinement, and the practice is likened to psychological torture.
The use of solitary confinement must be reserved for those prisoners who cannot conform to the rules of the institution or present a danger to other members of the prison community. It should not be used for average offenders, especially when the sentencing recommendation explicitly mandates a focus on rehabilitation. Double-bunking in solitary confinement cells is an unacceptable practice and compounds the adverse effects of both criticized practices. No amount of cost savings can justify subjecting any prisoner (let alone those serving intermittent sentences) to this procedure. It is a violation of numerous constitutional guarantees and is putting both inmate and guard safety in jeopardy. Something must change quickly in Saint John before somebody gets hurt.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.