Friday, December 12, 2014
The Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin, Speaker
Correctional Service of Canada—Solitary Confinement
Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette: Mr. Leader, I have a rather delicate question. We saw in the papers that Justice Arbour, who sat on the Supreme Court, international courts and other courts, intervened to ask the government to come up with a policy that would reduce the number of days inmates spend in solitary confinement.
Is your government drafting a policy that would reduce the number of days inmates are required to spend in solitary confinement based on international standards? Right now, professionals see this practice as a cruel punishment that should not be used in a civilized country, particularly not under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Administrative segregation is a practice that is commonly used by a number of western countries. The Correctional Service of Canada uses all of the tools at its disposal, including segregation, to ensure that the correctional system effectively addresses criminal behaviour.
Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, it’s now nearly a year since the coroner’s inquest reported on Ashley Smith, and we have at long last the government’s response. I, too, wish to focus on its response in terms of solitary confinement.
The government has rejected the recommendation that solitary confinement be limited to 15 days at a time with a maximum of 60 days per year. Why?
Senator Carignan: You are referring to the case of Ashley Smith. What happened in that case was a tragedy. As you can imagine, our thoughts and prayers remain with her family.
The government has already implemented more than half of the coroner’s recommendations and continues to follow up on other recommendations. Our government also developed a Mental Health Action Plan for Federal Offenders, which provides for timely assessments, effective management, sound intervention, ongoing training and development, as well as robust governance and oversight.
I want to reiterate what I have already said, which is that administrative segregation is a practice that is commonly used by a number of western countries.
Senator Fraser: I’m sure Mrs. Smith is grateful for your thoughts and prayers, but Mrs. Smith says that solitary confinement should be abolished, not just reduced.
Every expert outside the Correctional Service agrees that prolonged solitary confinement is dangerous to mental health. Even the government in this response says it accepts that:
. . . long periods in administrative segregation is —
— that’s their grammar, not mine —
— generally not conducive to healthy living . . .
There is, in the Correctional Service, a committee called the NLTSRC. That’s the National Long-Term Segregation Review Committee and it’s been around for five years. It suggests that long-term segregation, long-term solitary confinement is so entwined, so fundamental to the Correctional Service’s manner of handling things that it has to have a committee to review it. The committee reviews cases of people who have been in solitary confinement for 180 days or more, or those with “significant mental health needs” at 120 days or more.
One hundred and twenty days is eight times the recommendation of the coroner’s jury and, more important, it is widely known and acknowledged that solitary confinement in and of itself creates “significant mental health needs.”
Why does this government persist in having recourse to this counterproductive, dangerous, damaging system of solitary confinement?
Senator Carignan: Senator, as I said, administrative segregation is a practice that is commonly used by a number of western countries.
Our government also developed a Mental Health Action Plan for Federal Offenders, which provides for timely assessments, effective management, sound intervention, ongoing training and development, as well as robust governance and oversight.
The action plan is based on measures. We have expedited mental health screening, created a mental health strategy for inmates, expanded mental health counselling and improved staff training.
Since coming to power, our government has passed over 30 criminal justice and public safety measures to help prevent crime. As I mentioned in my previous answer and as planned, the government will continue to follow up on the coroner’s report on Ashley Smith’s death and will examine the other recommendations.
Senator Fraser: It’s all very well to have plans and strategies. I noticed with interest that the government was trumpeting with some glee that it has arranged for a grand total of two more mental health treatment beds for women inmates. That’s really going to make a big difference.
We’ve all seen the statistics. The number of people in solitary confinement in Canadian prisons keeps rising; so, not coincidentally, does the number of suicides in Canadian prisons. I was not aware that when people were sent to prison the sentence included a strong likelihood of suicide.
We put something like 7 per cent of our prisoners in solitary confinement. You may have seen the report the other day of an enterprising journalist who contacted the British prison system. Britain has a population nearly twice that of Canada. How many people did they have in solitary confinement? Four. Not 4 per cent, four, compared to the Canadian total. I’m not aware that the Brits are considered lily-livered bleeding hearts in terms of penitentiaries.
Is the government not ashamed of its continued reliance on a system that may be in use in many countries but not normally countries that we wish to emulate?
Senator Carignan: Senator, as I said, administrative segregation is a practice that is commonly used in a number of western countries, and the Correctional Service of Canada uses all of the tools at its disposal, including segregation, to ensure that Canada’s correctional system effectively addresses criminal behaviour.
The Mental Health Action Plan for Federal Offenders provides for timely assessments, effective management, sound intervention, ongoing training and development, as well as robust governance and oversight.
As for the coroner’s report on Ashley Smith’s death, we will continue to follow up on this report and examine the other recommendations.
Senator Fraser: I still don’t hear an answer to my initial question. Why is this country so out of step with international norms and understanding of the best, most constructive practices, bearing in mind that most of these prisoners will eventually get out? Do we really want to send a bunch of mentally-destroyed individuals out and face the inevitable consequences?
Why do you keep on doing this?
Senator Carignan: Senator, I think I already answered that question when I said that our government believes that dangerous offenders should be kept behind bars, and prisons are not the ideal place for treating serious mental illnesses.
That is why we developed the Mental Health Action Plan for Federal Offenders, which, I repeat, is focused on five pillars to ensure that the correctional system can correct criminal behaviour while taking into account the mental health of these offenders.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: I have a supplementary question, if I may.
Leader, it has been seven years since Ashley Smith died. It’s been a year since the recommendations came down, and the government is still studying them. Meanwhile, people with mental health problems continue to be in solitary confinement. Is this not a barbaric act?
Senator Carignan: Senator, I would remind you that the government has already implemented over half of the 104 recommendations made by the coroner and will continue to work on and study the rest of the recommendations.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Jaffer: I’m really very happy, leader, to hear that the government has put half of the recommendations in place. The other day, Ashley Smith’s mother was on television, and she said that not one recommendation had been put in place. May I respectfully ask that you provide us with what recommendations the government has already put in place?
Senator Carignan: I will take your question as notice and get back to you later, given the technical aspect of the response.