Prison watchdog calls for end to solitary for mentally ill inmates

Date: June 28, 2016

What would you do if you had to spend 23 and a half hours a day alone in a windowless room? Would you try and count the minutes as they ticked past? Would you talk to yourself? This is the reality for about 500 people each day in Canadian correctional facilities. About 500 people each day in Canada are locked in a windowless room for 23 and a half hours. In the institutions, it’s referred to as “Segregation”, but in common parlance it’s known as solitary confinement or “the hole”.


Segregation can be used for a number of purposes. Perhaps there is an inmate who is simply too dangerous to be around other people. Or, conversely, an inmate so hated that they would be at a great risk around any other inmates. There are legitimate reasons that can justify such an extreme action. Unfortunately, many times segregation is not used because no other solution would work but simply because it is the easiest. And the people to whom this occurs frequently, and often tragically, is with mentally ill inmates.


This overuse of Segregation on mentally ill inmates has lead to the shocking figure that 14 out of a total of 30 prison suicides in the past three years occurred in Segregation. In what is supposed to be the most secure and closely monitored part of a prison almost half of all suicides occurred. And it is likely, in a large part, due to the overuse of Segregation to manage mentally ill individuals.


The Prison watchdog has called for an end to the use of Segregation to manage mentally ill individuals, and a reduction in the overall rate of Segregation. This will require both an attitudinal shift inside the institutions and legislative change as well. Like in our Courts, the last resort has become the first resort when things get difficult; Segregation in the prisons, Incarceration in the courts. We need to get back to the principles of Justice and use all of the tools given to us to best address our criminal justice issues. We need to learn the lessons of the Swedish justice system and take true strides towards rehabilitation.


*Note: The information on this page is for general knowledge and is not legal advice.