dry cell

Latest Developments Regarding the Use of Segregation in Prisons

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As we have previously blogged, last year the federal government passed legislation to eliminate the use of “administrative segregation” following decisions by the courts in Ontario and British Columbia, which found that placing prisoners in isolation for more than 15 days violated their rights under the Charter and was found to cause long-term psychological damage. This type of segregation, commonly referred to as solitary confinement, allowed prisoners to be isolated in their cells for more than 22 hours a day with no meaningful human contact.

The government replaced administrative segregation with “structured intervention”, which requires prisoners who need to be separated from the general prison population to receive four hours a day outside of their cells and at least two hours of meaningful human contact.

Despite the legislative changes to solitary confinement in prisons, a recent report discloses that prisoners give the structured intervention units a failing grade.

PRELIMINARY REPORT ON STRUCTURED INTERVENTION UNITS

An independent review panel, chaired by professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto, Anthony Doob, appointed by the Liberal government to monitor the solitary confinement reforms released a preliminary report last month.  The results showed that nearly 50% of the structured intervention unit (“SIU”) placements lasted beyond the 15-day threshold.  Of the 1,646 prisoners placed in SIUs, less than 6% of prisoners in the new units were allowed to spend found hours outside of their cell every day.  The report stated that only 46% of prisoners had received the two hours of meaningful human contact on at least half of days in the SIUs.

According to the report, Indigenous and Black prisoners make up a disproportionate amount of prisoners being placed in SIUs.  Approximately 40% of prisoners sent to SIUs were Indigenous and 13% were Black prisoners. 

The authors wrote:

The failure to achieve the four hours out of the cell and two hours of meaningful human contact are, obviously, a special cause for concern.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, in response to this report, stated:

This preliminary report raises serious concerns with our progress in implementing the SIUs.  We take the findings of this report very seriously, and we won’t hesitate to address them. …

There is more work that needs to be done to address systemic racism and barriers within justice system, and the federal correctional system is no exception.  By working to eliminate these barriers, we can ensure better equitable reintegration outcomes for Indigenous, Black and other racialized inmates.

‘DRY CELLING’ VIOLATES THE CHARTER

In other news regarding prisons in Canada, a New Brunswick woman argues that “dry cell” segregation violates her rights under the Charter due to its cruelty and lack of basic legal protections

“Dry celling” occurs when an inmate suspected of concealing drugs is confined to a cell without running water or toilets so that their human waste can be examined for drugs. 

Lisa Adams (“Adams”), who was incarcerated for drug trafficking at the Nova Institution for Women, was placed in segregation due to correctional officers suspicion that she had been hiding methamphetamine in her vagina while she was outside of prison on parole.  Adams argues that a section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which allows for the segregation and monitoring of prisoners for suspected drug concealment, violates the rights of Canadians guaranteed under the Charter and should be struck down.

Adams was given the choice of producing the drugs or being placed for 14 days in segregation for observation.  According to Adams, she could not provide the drugs as she was not hiding them.  After 14 days in segregation, she required medical attention for health reasons at which time she submitted to a vaginal exam.  This examination revealed that she did not have the drugs on her, however, Adams was subjected to another two days in isolation.

Adams maintains that she suffered mental anguish due to the prolonged segregation and nearly constant observation by correctional officers, even when she showered or went to the bathroom.  Furthermore, she was only allowed out in the prison yard five times and had no meaningful human contact except for a daily ten to fifteen minute visit by prison mental health staff during her isolation.

Adams argues that while in isolation her Charter rights prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishment”, the “right to life, liberty and security of the person” and her “right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure” were violated.

The lawyer representing the federal Crown acknowledges that although Adams’ detention was unlawful as the law was not administered properly in Adams’ case, the practice of dry celling can be carried out appropriately and should not be struck down.

Justice John Keith has reserved his decision on this case. 

We will continue to follow any developments in the law regarding solitary confinement and dry celling in Canada’s prisons 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 LLP 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.