Proposed Legislation to End Solitary Confinement

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Following the Ontario and British Columbia Superior Court decisions that found that the use of segregation was unconstitutional (which we have previously blogged about), a new piece of legislation has been introduced which proposes to overhaul how federal inmates are separated from the general prison population.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has introduced Bill C-83 to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. These changes would eliminate solitary confinement and replace it with “structured intervention units” (“SIUs”). The SIUs will allow inmates to be separated from the general population if they are unable to exist safely with the other prisoners.

HOW WILL SEGREGATION IN PRISONS CHANGE UNDER BILL C-83?

As it stands today, inmates placed in solitary confinement are allowed two hours a day outside of their cell, but are not entitled to any human contact. Under Bill C-83, prisoners who are found to be at risk to themselves or others will be placed in SIUs.

Prisoners placed in SIUs will have access to rehabilitative programming, interventions, and mental-health care. They will be visited daily by a registered health care professional and be provided access to patient advocates. These inmates will be given at least four hours a day outside of their cell and at least two hours a day with “meaningful” human contact.

Bill C-83 also proposes to allow staff members to use body scan imaging technology as an alternative to body cavity searches to prevent contraband from entering prisons.

Furthermore, Bill C-83 includes provisions that background and systemic factors should be considered in all correctional decisions in cases involving indigenous inmates.

Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly supports the proposed legislation and stated:

I believe these legislative changes will transform the federal correctional system while ensuring that our institutions provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive to inmate rehabilitation, staff safety and the protection of the public. They will also help ensure that our correctional system continues to be progressive and takes into account the needs of a diverse offender population.

LIMITATIONS OF BILL C-83

Bill C-83 does not address the time limits for segregation or the independent oversight of segregation decisions, which are both issues that the federal correctional ombudsman and rights advocates have been lobbying for.

Furthermore, if this bill passes, this legislation will have no effect on the use of solitary confinement in all provincial jails. These jails are made up of pretrial prisoners and those inmates serving sentences of less than two years.

Goodale believes that the appeals by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in Ontario and the federal government in B.C. with respect to the constitutionality of current policies for solitary confinement that are scheduled to begin next month will proceed. But, he is hopeful that this new legislation will address the concerns of all current policies and make further litigation regarding solitary confinement unnecessary.

CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

A lawsuit has been certified by a Superior Court Judge as a class action lawsuit in Ontario alleging that the Ontario government violated the rights of its inmates by placing them inappropriately in solitary confinement.

The $600 million legal action alleges that the provincial government has been negligent in utilizing segregation by isolating prisoners for weeks, months or even years.

The lawsuit includes inmates diagnosed with severe mental illnesses (i.e. schizophrenia or psychosis) who served time in segregation in provincial facilities since January 1, 2009. Inmates who were placed in solitary confinement for 15 days or longer are also included in the class.

The main issue in the lawsuit is “administrative segregation”. This takes place when inmates are isolated either to ensure their own safety or for the safety of others in the facility. Inmates are kept in tiny cells without any human contact for most of the day.

Conrey Francis (“Francis”) is the representative Plaintiff for this class action lawsuit. Francis is the individual who represents the entire class in the action.

Francis has spent several periods of time in prison since 1982, and was placed in solitary confinement. Francis has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and suffers from extreme panic attacks. Francis alleges that his time in isolation worsened his mental health and he began suffering from suicidal thoughts and auditory hallucinations.

We will continue to follow the developments of Bill C-83, the appeals regarding the rulings that administrative segregations are unconstitutional, and the class action lawsuit commenced in Ontario and will report any updates in this blog.

In the meantime, should you have any questions regarding your legal rights and need to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer please contact Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We are highly knowledgeable and extremely experienced at defending a wide range of criminal charges. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.