Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has maintained the ability to hold “offenders with significant mental health needs” in solitary confinement for “180 days or more”.
That information is included in a written response wherein CSC rejects key jury recommendations for reforms in the ways it uses solitary confinement to house people with mental-health challenges in federal prisons.
Following the 2007 death of Ashley Smith, a mentally-ill Ontario teenager who took her life after spending four years in solitary confinement, a jury concluded that CSC should reduce its reliance on solitary—officially known as administrative segregation—and abolish indefinite detention in solitary confinement.
Contrary to those recommendations, the government of Canada’s official response released today (December 11) states that CSC will continue to hold “offenders with significant mental health needs” in solitary for extended periods of time.
“There are various aspects of the Jury recommendations in the section entitled Segregation and Seclusion (Recommendations 27 through 37) that the Government is unable to fully support without causing undue risk to the safe management of the federal correctional system,” the report states.
The document repeatedly emphasizes that CSC “believes that administrative segregation should only be used when there are no reasonable alternatives and for the shortest period of time that is necessary”.
However, it also outlines mechanisms that provide for federal prisons to hold mentally-ill offenders in solitary confinement for as long as “180 days or more”.
Psychiatric evaluations and risk assessments that focus on self-harm and suicide should be conducted at regular five, 30, and then 60-day intervals, the report states. In addition, a review board will examine cases where an inmate has spent 120 consecutive days in segregation.
While CSC rejected the jury’s recommendations on solitary confinement, it acknowledged that the practice is understood to be harmful.
“It is a generally held belief that long term segregation produces adverse effects and worsens overall mental health and psychological functioning,” the report states. “Although research on the subject is not conclusive, the Government accepts that long periods in administrative segregation is generally not conducive to healthy living or meeting the goals of the correctional planning process.”
According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, 24.3 percent of Canada’s federal-prison population spent some time in segregation during the review period 2011-12. For a male offender, the average length of stay was 35 days.
The use of solitary confinement by federal prisons in British Columbia came under scrutiny in early 2014 when it was revealed three inmates at Mountain Institution, a medium-security prison located in Agassiz, north of Chilliwack, had committed suicide while held in administrative segregation.
Those deaths prompted a coroner’s inquest that was held in March.
A jury delivered a set of seven recommendations, with priority attributed to the “prevention of suicide and self-harm”. Among them are proposals that guards double the number of unscheduled checks on inmates, that Correctional Service of Canada install larger windows in segregation units, and that segregation-cell floors be outfitted with motion sensors that alert guards when inmates leave their beds during the night.
Today and so far every time this reporter has requested an interview on the topic of administrative segregation, CSC did not make a representative available to comment. This story will be updated if and when an interview is granted.