structured intervention units

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.

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.