Ban long-term solitary confinement: Editorial (Toronto Star)

Ban long-term solitary confinement: Editorial (Toronto Star)

May 12, 2016

12 May 2016

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé is right to call for a ban on the long-term solitary confinement of prison inmates.

Paul Dubé, Ombudsman of Ontario
Toronto Star
May 12, 2016

It’s soul-crushing, cruel and counter-productive — and it needs to stop.

The United Nations has declared that keeping inmates in long-term solitary confinement, beyond 15 days, is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Yet it routinely happens in Ontario to punish “difficult and vulnerable” prisoners, according to provincial ombudsman Paul Dubé.

He is urging Queen’s Park to abolish “indefinite segregation” and develop alternate practices to protect the rights of people serving time in jail. Dubé presents a strong case — one the province should immediately act upon.

In a submission this week entitled Segregation: Not an Isolated Problem the ombudsman underlined the dangers associated with inmate segregation, including worsening mental health and increased risk of suicide. And Dubé warned of the “wholesale inadequacy” of existing protections.

Solitary confinement is supposed to be used as a last resort, in a carefully monitored and controlled way. Instead, it is “a tool regularly used by managers to separate out and effectively punish the most ‘difficult’ and vulnerable inmates,” he wrote.

One prisoner was kept in solitary for more than three years, Dubé reported. Segregation cases are required by law to be reviewed every five days but the ombudsman found at least one where reviews were being done every 20 days on average.

Indefinite solitary confinement is tantamount to government-sanctioned abuse and it demands reform. It’s particularly telling that the Ontario ombudsman’s office has received 557 complaints related to prison segregation in the past three years.

An outright ban on solitary confinement has been requested by some organizations, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission. But a brief period of segregation may be useful in cases where a prisoner poses an immediate danger to himself or others. Dubé’s recommendation of having a 15-day limit on such placements seems the best way to proceed, with no inmate held in isolation for longer than 60 days a year.

Queen’s Park is conducting a review of policies on solitary confinement and has indicated it is considering limiting the amount of time inmates can be kept in segregation. Rather that waiting for consultations to finish before taking action, the government should listen to Dubé and impose a 15-day cap on solitary confinement without any further delay.