Prisoner segregation falls, but ombudsman questions conditions in alternatives – CP

by ahnationtalk on March 15, 201779 Views

Source: The Canadian Press
Mar 15, 2017 

OTTAWA _ Canada’s federal prison ombudsman is noting a steep decline in the use of solitary confinement in jails in the past two years, but remains concerned some inmates are facing long periods of isolation in the cells where they’re placed.

Ivan Zinger said that on average about 400 inmates were in solitary confinement in a federal prison on any given day last year, about half the roughly 800 that were segregated in 2013-14.

A report he released on Tuesday evening also says that the average length of stay also fell from 44 days a decade ago to 26 days last year.

Zinger says the trend is positive and has been continuing this year, and he credits the decline to a change in approach by senior management at Correctional Service Canada.

“The effort started two years ago to reduce the segregation population and it’s been quite successful,” said Zinger.

Overall, admissions last year were down to the lowest figure in a decade, falling to 6,782 from the previous year’s 8,321.

The correctional investigator says some of the decrease is due to a shift of prisoners into mental health units which started to be set up in facilities around the country two years ago.

“Those who were mentally ill in segregation are provided a more therapeutic environment with more support,” said Zinger.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator has been advocating for the past decade for a decrease in the use of isolation, saying it has been used inappropriately to manage mentally ill and suicidal inmates.

The office has also argued solitary should be prohibited for mentally ill inmates, be limited to no more than 30 days and not be allowed as an alternative to a disciplinary process.

Zinger said the legal changes recommended by his office on the use of solitary should be the next step in further reducing its use.

He said he also remains concerned that an unknown percentage of the inmates being shifted out of isolation may be placed in units where they live under extremely restricted conditions _ a status he refers to as “segregation light.”

An audit provided to the ombudsman’s office says 31 specialized units have been established over the past two years, and are referred to by a variety of names.

While the correctional investigator said he’s pleased by the shift to mental health units, he fears other alternatives are placing heavy restrictions on the prisoners without the safeguards that normally exist for solitary confinement.

“Typically inmates spend more time in these cells than the regular, general population, have less access to programs, services and employment and this is worrisome to us,” said Zinger.

In some more restricted environments, prisoners may only be let out of their cells for a few hours, rather than the eight to 10 hours of regular prisoners, said Zinger.

_ Written by Michael Tutton in Halifax.

INDEX: NATIONAL POLITICS

 

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