Liberals move to end solitary confinement of federal prisoners

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The Liberal government is moving to end the use of solitary confinement of federal prisoners.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tabled legislation Tuesday to create new penitentiary units, called Structured Intervention Units (SIU), to house inmates separately while still giving them access to rehabilitation, mental health care and other programs.

Goodale was scheduled to hold a news conference to discuss the details at noon ET, and CBCNews.ca will carry it live.

Under the new SIU model, inmates who can’t be safely managed in the mainstream population will receive interventions and programs tailored to their needs. They will also be allowed outside their cell for four hours each day (compared to two under the current administrative segregation model) and will have the opportunity to have two hours a day of « meaningful human contact. »

Eliminating segregation is part of a multi-pronged bill that also brings in measures to boost victims’ supports and address the specific needs of Indigenous offenders.

« We are committed to ensuring that we not only have the tools to hold guilty parties accountable for breaking the law, but (to a system that) also creates an environment that fosters rehabilitation so that we have fewer repeat offenders, fewer victims, and ultimately, safer communities, » Goodale said in a statement. 

« This new approach to federal corrections will protect the safety of our staff and those under their care by allowing offenders to be separated as required, while ensuring those offenders receive more effective rehabilitative programming, interventions and mental health support. »

Other proposed reforms in the bill include:

  • Ensuring systemic and background factors unique to Indigenous offenders are considered in all correctional decisions.
  • Authorizing the use of body scan imaging technology to help prevent contraband such as drugs and weapons from entering prisons.
  • Increasing victims’ access to audio recordings of parole board hearings.
  • Providing greater autonomy and clinical independence to health-care professionals working in prisons, and allowing for patient advocates as was recommended by the coroner’s inquest into the death of Ashley Smith.

Calls for tighter restrictions over solitary confinement grew louder after that high-profile inquest into the death of the teen prisoner. Smith died in a segregated prison cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007.

A coroner’s jury ruled that her self-inflicted choking death was a homicide and made 104 recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future. 

The Liberal government has faced legal challenges over Correctional Service Canada’s administrative segregation policies, with prisoner advocates calling prolonged use of segregation « cruel and unusual punishment. »

Last year, the government presented to Parliament a bill to cap the use of segregation at 15 days, with an 18-month transition period.

Under proposed legislation, the practice of solitary confinement, called administrative segregation, will be replaced with special units to house trouble inmates separately while still giving them access to programs and meaningful human contact. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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