Update: see previous post – February 23, 2016 Canada: Federal government studies options to fix ‘broken bail’ system
“We believe that it has a discriminatory and disproportionate impact on … racialized individuals, people with mental health issues and women,” said Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is calling for an end to the use of solitary confinement in provincial jails.
Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane has asked the province to commit publicly to ending the practice and immediately restrict its use.
“We believe that it has a discriminatory and disproportionate impact on code-protected groups — namely, racialized individuals, people with mental health issues and women,” said Mandhane, who joined the commission in November.
Mandhane, an expert in international human rights law, said solitary confinement is often used to manage offenders with mental health disabilities, and the practice must stop.
“Because segregation is an option, it has not put pressure on the prison structure to create other forms of dealing with the complex needs of some of the prisoners in the population,” she said.
The recommendations, which the Star obtained ahead of their Monday release, came out of a request from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for the commission’s participation in a sweeping review of segregation practices across the province announced by Minister Yasir Naqvi last March.
The ministry has not responded directly to the commission’s call to end solitary confinement. Naqvi was not available for an interview due to the recent birth of his second child. His spokeswoman, Lauren Callighen, said the ministry will continue to work with the commission as it updates policies and continues efforts to transform the correctional system.
“We know that segregation can be emotionally and mentally distressing and individuals who suffer from mental illness are particularly vulnerable,” Callighen said in a statement. “Our goal is that segregation will only be used as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted.”
The segregation review, which Callighen said the ministry hopes to complete by the end of the year, will “evaluate policies, practices and procedures, identify areas for change, and examine best practices in other jurisdictions.”
The ministry has faced growing criticism over solitary confinement in Ontario jails, which comes amid mounting national and global concern about the mental health consequences of isolation. The review came after a string of Star stories that documented alleged human rights violations in provincial jails.
A United Nations special investigator has said solitary confinement should be used only in exceptional circumstances and never for people with mental disabilities or for more than 15 consecutive days, or it could amount to torture. Howard Sapers, Canada’s federal prison watchdog, has pushed for it to be banned for inmates with the diagnosis of a serious mental illness or a history of self-injury, and his office has called solitary confinement the “most austere and depriving form of incarceration that the state can legally administer in Canada.”
Mandhane said the commission’s position — an end to the practice in Ontario — is intentionally strong because removing segregation as an option would force the province to change the way jails operate.
“What we hope would happen is that you’d see more resources put into prisons to deal with people who have mental health issues, so that you’re actually treating the underlying cause,” rather than “just locking them up and throwing away the key,” she said.
“We need a culture shift in terms of how we deal with racialized groups, indigenous women and prisoners with mental health issues. And for too long we have used what I think is the most punitive thing we can do in our entire correctional system . . . to deal with these disadvantaged groups.”
Mandhane said the commission isn’t naive enough to think an end to solitary can happen overnight, but said the ministry could minimize the impact of segregation by immediately implementing its recommendations.
The recommendations include:
Adjust staffing models, hiring and training to ensure staff with appropriate attitudes and behavioural skills are working with vulnerable prisoner populations.
Continue to implement a landmark 2013 human rights settlement, which banned the use of segregation for prisoners with mental health disabilities.
Make segregation placement decisions and health-care assessments subject to external and independent review and oversight.
Ensure all prisoners and their legal representatives are given relevant information about and a genuine opportunity to challenge placement in segregation.
Collect and analyze race-based and human rights-based data on the use of segregation, but more broadly on the progression of prisoners through the correctional system.