Federal Liberals stonewall solitary confinement panel; later say their report full of errors

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Federal Liberals stonewall solitary confinement panel; later say their report full of errors

After courts in Ontario and BC found in 2018 that solitary confinement was "unconstitutional" and amounted to "pyschological torture" because it was "cruel and unusual punishment,", the Trudeau Liberal government passed a law in 2019 forbidding it. However, Correctional Services Canada initially refused to turn over data for one year to an independent panel of prison experts headed by Anthony Doob, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto, for a year causing the panel to disband in protest in August 2020. Doob said many people had advised him that the Liberal government had set him up in order to give the government a veneer of legitimacy. Only the resulting disbanding of the panel forced the government to turn over the data. 

A member of an independent panel of prison experts tasked by the federal government to oversee its solitary confinement reforms says the panel was "powerless" to do its job because Correctional Service Canada (CSC) failed to provide the data it needed.

Anthony Doob, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto, said the advisory panel of which he was a member is now completing its one-year term. It was unable to properly evaluate the new program because repeated attempts to obtain information by the eight-person panel were rebuffed, he said. "This panel is powerless to accomplish the job that it was set up to do without cooperation from CSC. Furthermore, the issues raised by CSC's apparent inability to monitor and evaluate its own operation are not issues solely about its cooperation and support for this panel of unpaid volunteers," he wrote in a memo attached to the group's report. "Much more important is the fact that CSC is telling us that it does not have systematic information on the operation of its Structured Intervention Units and apparently never made the gathering of this information a priority." ...

In an interview with CBC, Doob said he was warned by many people before he accepted the voluntary position that he was being "set up" to give the government's plan legitimacy. He said he now thinks they were right. "I was used," he said.

Facing lawsuits over what many human rights experts called "inhumane" segregation practices that amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment," the federal government announced a plan in September 2018 to end segregation and to establish special penitentiary units called Structured Intervention Units. The SIUs were designed to house inmates separately while giving them improved access to rehabilitation, mental health care and other programs.

Under the new SIU model, inmates who couldn't be managed safely in the mainstream population were to receive programs tailored to their needs and given more time outside their cells, along with "meaningful human contact." ...

The government appointed the expert panel to oversee the implementation of the reforms.

Doob said that a CSC truly interested in knowing how the SIUs work would want access to the data the panel was seeking. "We don't know whether things were good, bad, indifferent or awful, because they don't want anybody to know, and you can draw your own inferences about what that means," he said.

Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said the panel's existence gave advocates "comfort" that CSC would deliver on its promises. "I find that both alarming and discouraging, and disappointing," she said in an interview. "I think it's very important that there be external eyes on the implementation of the structural intervention units and the panel not getting adequate data to be able to do a fair assessment within the mandate of their panel is very upsetting."

Latimer visited the SIU at Ontario's Millhaven Institution in January. She said she found that CSC was not providing the four hours outside a cell and the two hours of "meaningful human contact" required under the new regime.

Calls for tighter restrictions on solitary confinement grew louder with the high-profile inquest into Ashley Smith's death behind bars. The teen 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.




When the panel released its report this week finding enormous problems with solitary confinement that violate the Liberals' own law, the government said the data, which was its own data, was full of errors, in a truly Kafkaesque move. It is also similar to the way it has hidden information in the Aga Khan, SNC Lavalin and We scandals. 

Some of the findings of the investigative panel include: 49.2% spent more than the maximum 15 days in solitary confinement; 16% of prisoners spent more than two months in solitary confinement, violating the law's rule of 15 days maximum by a wide margin; only 5.7% of inmates got the legally required four hours outside their cell every day; more than one third of them had more than one solitary confinement;  40% of indigenous inmates, who represent 30% of inmates and 13.7% Black prisoners, compared to their 7.3% of the prison population, suffered solitary confinement at disproportionate rates; and three out of four women sent to solitary were indigenous. 

Federal prisons continue to place inmates in conditions that flout a 2019 law designed to eliminate solitary confinement, according to data contained in a new report. The report’s authors, who were mandated by the federal government to assess the new standards, also say they struggled for months to get the Correctional Service of Canada to release information.

The report offers a bleak statistical assessment of the agency’s “structured intervention units” (SIU), a practice for separating inmates introduced last year to replace administrative segregation, an isolation method akin to solitary confinement that has been declared unconstitutional in Canadian courts.

The United Nations defines solitary confinement as isolation in a cell for 22 hours a day without meaningful human contact. The international body says it should be used only as a last resort and never beyond 15 days. While administrative segregation fell within that definition, SIUs were intended to give inmates four hours of time outside their cells and at least two hours of human contact – all with new oversight measures to limit placements from exceeding 15 days. But data in the new report show those targets have been elusive.

“What is so sad about this story is that nothing seems to have changed,” said University of Toronto professor emeritus Anthony Doob, who co-authored the report with Ryerson University criminology professor Jane Sprott. “We have new legislation, new words and so on, but when you look at the numbers, there are all the same old problems.”

The authors found that for the first nine months the new SIU units were open (Nov. 30 of last year until Aug. 31 of this year), 49.2 per cent of placements lasted for more than 15 days.

Of 1,646 people placed in SIUs, just 5.7 per cent were able to spend four hours outside of their cell every day. Most of them (66.3 per cent) missed their four-hour allotment three-quarters of the time and 39 per cent didn’t receive a single four-hour period outside their cell.

Indigenous and Black prisoners make up a disproportionate share of prisoners being sent to SIUs, the report states.

Roughly 40 per cent of prisoners sent to SIUs were Indigenous, a disproportionate share considering they comprise 30 per cent of federal inmates. Black prisoners, meanwhile, made up 13 per cent of SIU placements. They comprise 7.3 per cent of the federal prisoners, according to 2018 figures.

Women make up just 2.3 per cent of the SIU placements, but 82 per cent of those came from a single penitentiary – Edmonton Institution for Women. Roughly three in four women sent to SIUs at Edmonton Institution were Indigenous. ...

CSC says it is meeting SIU obligations in most cases and thanked the authors for their work. “As with any new transformational model, it takes time to get everything right,” said spokeswoman Esther Mailhot. “We are committed to making improvements by building on lessons learned over the past year.”

Before the SIU legislation passed last year, a group of more than 100 lawyers and law professors warned the government in a letter that the bill amounted to “solitary confinement by a different name.” The Doob report, they say, reaffirms their position.

“It’s very clear now that solitary confinement has not been abolished,” said one of the signatories, Adelina Iftene, assistant professor of law at Dalhousie University. “It highlights the need for judicial oversight within CSC.”

Last year, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association argued successfully before the Ontario Court of Appeal for 15-day limits on administrative segregation. Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, equality program director for the group, says the report shows prolonged solitary remains in use.



Lee Chapelle talks about the mental damage caused to him by being held in solitary confinement for long periods in a video that also discusses the Trudeau Liberals' blocking of the panel getting the information it needed to carry out its investigation of the Canadian prison's use of solitary confinement.