In my article from last week, I shared the unnerving discovery about the treatment of offenders in a New Brunswick jail. To recap, offenders serving weekend sentences are currently being double-bunked in solitary confinements cells at the institution. While housed in these cells, the offenders must adhere to the conditions of solitary confinement such as being held in a cell for 23.5 hours a day. My research on this subject led to the development of interest in the use of the controversial practice of housing offenders in solitary confinement, and the treatment of prisoners in New Brunswick jails. As it turns out, the Atlantic region uses solitary confinement more than any other part of Canada, and New Brunswick jails have been heavily criticized for their treatment of prisoners in recent years.
Currently, there are six federal penitentiaries for the Atlantic region, with four federal institutions found in New Brunswick. These prisons hold the bulk of the federal prisoners in the Maritimes. Compared to the rest of the country, the inmate population of these prisons is only a fraction of the rest of Canada yet Atlantic institutions have a much higher rate of solitary confinement use. Currently, with five percent of their inmates in solitary confinement, administrative segregation rates in the Atlantic region are five times higher than in Ontario. The Atlantic region also accounts for more than one-third of all inmates who had been in solitary confinement for more than 100 days. The united nations stated that any confinement over two weeks amounts to torture.
“Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles” – Juan E. Méndez
The use of solitary confinement has been an issue in Canadian corrections for some time now since the high profile death of Ashley Smith in 2013. Numerous studies and report have since surfaced indicating the extremely harmful effects the social isolation of solitary confinement has on a person’s mental health. Still, the use of the practice has remained, and guidelines are not stringently implemented. A prime example of this is the tragic case of Guy Langlois, an inmate at the Atlantic Institution in Renous, NB. On April 24th of this year, Guy took his own life after spending an astonishing 118 straight days in solitary confinement.
The flip side to stricter regulations governing the use of solitary confinement is that it leads to an increase in violent assaults in prisons. The office of the correctional investigator counted the number of people leaving segregation, and how many of them were involved in an assault (either as the instigator or the victim). After analyzing the numbers, a clear correlation between release back into the regular population and violent incidents. The prison environment needs checks and balances, and solitary confinement is one of best tools available for correctional officers to promote institutional safety. Elimination of the practice outright may not be feasible, but a balance must be struck between prisoners civil liberties concerns and the need for institutional security. One thing, however, is certain: small-time criminals serving intermittent sentences should not be exposed to this dangerous, outdated practice to save costs.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.