Charter Rights · Defense · Policy

30+ days in Solitary Confinement: Could You Survive?

childsolitaryAshley Smith: 840 days (over 2 years).

Adam Capay: 1,560 days (over 4 years).

Unnamed Inmate: 6,273 days (over 17 years).

The number of consecutive days these federal prisoners spent in administrative segregation.

Federal Prisons, acting under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), can remove inmates from the general population placing them in solitary confinement for one of two reasons: punishment or prison management.

When an inmate commits a serious disciplinary offense, they may be subjected to disciplinary segregation. Segregation for a maximum of 30 days (45 days for multiple convictions) is the most severe punishment an inmate can receive for committing a disciplinary offense.

Inmates, however, do not have to commit a serious disciplinary offense to end up in solitary confinement. In fact, Canadian penitentiaries rely on administrative segregation as an everyday prison management technique.

To force an inmate into administrative segregation, the penitentiary must have reasonable grounds that the inmate is jeopardizing penitentiary security; jeopardizing inmate safety (including their own safety); or interfering with an investigation. And even then, only when there’s no other alternative.

But on any given day 1,200 federal inmates are in solitary confinement: 600 for at least 30 days and 60 for more than 120 days. In administrative segregation, inmates spend 23 hours a day alone in their cell.

Worse, the CCRA empowers the penitentiary to segregate prisoners indefinitely.

The CCRA administrative segregation framework is not itself unconstitutional. But its application is.

A prisoner does not relinquish their constitutional rights when they are sentenced to prison. They preserve their section 7 rights to life and security of the person; section 12 right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment; and section 15 right to equality. Administrative segregation, however, robs inmates of their constitutional rights because it lacks external oversight, causes severe psychological suffering, and worsens the disadvantage of indigenous and mentally ill prisoners. Simply put, solitary confinement denies inmate of the social interactions necessary for human health. As a result, in January 2015, the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched Charter challenges against the CCRA’s administrative segregation provisions.

Over the past 40 years, Justice Louise Arbour, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the UN Committee on Torture have all criticized Canada’s administrative segregation policy. Specifically, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture unequivocally concluded that solitary confinement exceeding 15 consecutive days causes serious adverse psychological and physiological effects. Yet, the Canadian Correctional Services continuously refuses to change its administrative segregation policies.

Over the past 40 years, an independent study conducted by the Office of the Correctional Service Investigator, the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission all recommended independent adjudication for administrative segregation. Yet, the Canadian Correctional Services rejects any oversight mechanism.

Right now, administrative segregation lacks a reliable mechanism to oversee and limit prisoner isolation: the Prison’s Director makes the ultimate decision about who is placed in administrative segregation and conducts all inmate segregation reviews. But the Prison Director has a personal stake in the prison’s success. Decisions, therefore, inevitably prioritize prison management over prisoner rights. To put it another way, the Director’s role in a segregated inmate’s fate would be equivalent of the Prosecutor, not a judge, deciding a defendant’s sentence after conviction. This undercuts the principle fairness, a principle underpinning Canada’s justice system.

The solution is not to eliminate administrative segregation but rather ensure administrative segregation is only used as a last resort. Independent external review can help marry administrative segregation with human rights obligations.



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