Federal prisons located in British Columbia are holding more inmates in solitary confinement, newly released documents show.
In Pacific region facilities operated by Correctional Service Canada (CSC), more than one in five inmates spent one day or longer in solitary last year.
The statistics were obtained from the Conservative government by Irwin Cotler, Liberal MP for Mount Royal in Quebec, whose office posted them online on April 13.
The document states that in B.C. in 2013-14, there were a total of 856 inmates placed in solitary, up from 702 four years earlier.
The portion of B.C. federal inmates placed in solitary has also increased over time, from 19 percent in 2009-10 to 22 percent in 2013-14. The latest percentage for B.C. is slightly higher than the national average, which a larger analysis by the Globe and Mail calculated to be 20 percent.
The government’s report states figures may be distorted. It notes an inmate held in solitary at two different facilities during one fiscal year would appear in the data as two prisoners.
According to a 2012 report by Public Safety Canada, the suicide rate for inmates in federal penitentiaries is roughly seven times higher than the national rate for the general public. In addition, a 2011-12 study by the Office of the Correctional Investigator found “close to one-third of reported self-injury incidents occurred in segregation units.”
A March 2013 report by the same office states nearly 40 percent of offenders held in segregation were kept there for longer than 30 days, and 16.5 percent for more than 120 days. That document calls attention to an “over-reliance” on segregation to manage mentally ill offenders, and states that the use of solitary confinement in such cases may escalate behaviours associated with disorders.
In December 2014, the Straight reported CSC officially decided it would ignore a jury’s recommendations on solitary confinement and continue to reserve the ability to hold “offenders with significant mental health needs” in solitary for “180 days or more”.
According to the Globe’s national analysis, during the 2013-14 fiscal year, 6,758 inmates across Canada spent at least one day in solitary. That’s up from 6,165 in 2009-10.
For federal prisons in B.C., the maximum-security Kent Institution outside Agassiz consistently held the most prisoners in solitary. The number was 299 in 2013-14 compared to 249 in 2009-10. A close second was Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford, with 286 inmates in solitary in 2014-13 versus 205 four years earlier. Mountain Institution, a medium-security sister facility to Kent, placed third. In 2013-14, it held 134 people in solitary compared to 135 in 2009-10 (and down from a high of 167 in 2010-11).