HUMAN RIGHTS / Solitary Confinement is a Human Rights Issue.

Author:McKay-Panos, Linda
 
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Mahatma Ghandi once said: "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." Canada has used solitary confinement for prisoners for decades. In the past several years, solitary confinement has been the subject of criticism from civil libertarians and mental health advocates.

Usually, solitary confinement involves isolating inmates in a small cell without human contact for 22 hours per day. Often called "administrative segregation", solitary confinement has been the subject of increased scrutiny because of suicides and mental health issues suffered by prisoners who may be held for years in isolation. In A Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement, Dr. Sharon Shalev (2008), a leading international authority on solitary confinement, states that between one-third and 90% of prisoners experience some negative impacts of long-term solitary confinement. The symptoms may include insomnia, confusion, feelings of hopelessness and despair, distorted perceptions and hallucinations.

For over 20 years, the Correctional Investigator has criticized the overuse of solitary confinement in Canada. For example, see the Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator 2014-2015 (Annual Report, 2014-2015). The Correctional Investigator notes that solitary confinement is overused particularly for women with mental health issues, and for Indigenous and Black inmates.

In 1992, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, SC 1992, c 20 (CCRA), originally provided procedural safeguards for administrative segregation in sections 31 to 37. These may be summarized as:

* Release from administrative segregation at the earliest appropriate time.

* Reasonable alternatives to administrative segregation must first be explored and exhausted.

* Inmates in administrative segregation have the same rights as those in the general inmate population, except those that cannot be exercised due to limitations specific to administrative segregation or security requirements.

* The Correctional Service Canada shall take into consideration an offender's state of health and health care needs in all administrative segregation decisions (Annual Report, 2014-2015).

There are also international guidelines called the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also called the Nelson Mandela Rules). Rules 43 to 45:

* prohibit indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement (over 15 days);

* provide that solitary confinement is to be used only exceptionally...

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