Segregation in Canadian Prisons: The New Normal?




Over the past few weeks, Corrections Services Canada and the Federal Government have been placed under the spotlight based on recommendations on the practice of placing inmates into segregation. These recommendations come from an inquest relate to Ashley Smith and more recent concerns surrounding the death of Edward Snowshoe.

Below is a conversation between the CBC and Canada’s prisoner Ombudsman Howard Sapers on the role of segregation and its consequences.

Here is Debra Parkes,associate dean, research and graduate studies, in the law faculty at the University of Manitoba, on segregation and human rights in Canada:  She will be joining us on Wednesday.

Once you have listened to the podcast and read the Parkes op-ed, leave an informed comment on the Day 6 website. Be sure to have a question, thesis, and rationale.


2 thoughts on “Segregation in Canadian Prisons: The New Normal?

  1. **The comment section was closed on the Day 6 website for that particular article so I’m just commenting here.

    When contemplating the issue of segregation in our prisons, I realized something. I realized I know very little about how our government facilitates what goes on within Canadian prisons. On this particular topic, it seems to me that there is very little regulation and the regulation there is seems to be very flexible to say the least. Segregation is not fundamentally bad when used for the right purposes and regulated correctly, but that is not the case in Canada here today.

    Segregation is seen to be necessary in situations where someone is a threat to themselves or others within a prison. That principle itself is very debatable, but lets just say that we agree with this for the purpose of argument. In a situation that a person is indeed a threat, segregation has legitimate purpose. But, it is not okay to segregate these people for endless amounts of time with a “healthcare check” only every three weeks. There needs to be strict and legitimate rules regulating the amount of time these people spend within the segregation cell. There must also be better reasoning for subjecting these people to this form of punishment other than “administrative reasons”. In other words, the government needs to deal with the overpopulation of prisons in a different manner than punishing prisoners for seemingly no good reason. Especially when all of the cold hard evidence is pointing towards the fact that this form of punishment is really a very bad thing. You know its getting serious when even the USA has agreed to cut down on that form of punishment.

    Segregation is not entirely a bad thing, but the unregulated and excessive way that it is used in Canada today needs to change.

  2. Question: Is the use of segregation fulfilling the purpose of prisons by rehabilitating prisoners and helping them rejoin society>

    Canadian prisons are leaders in the use of segregation as punitive as well as administrative measures. The seclusion of prisoners has been overused in prisons across Canada as a solution to overpopulation and the effects have been evident and severe. Presently, no legislation exists regulating the time an individual can spend in segregation and in cases such as Ashley Smith, who spent 2 000 days in segregation and committed suicide in her cell. Obviously, one of the fundamental roles of prison, rehabilitation and reintegration, are not being fulfilled as the mental wellbeing of all the prisoners put in solitary plummeted almost immediately and in many cases resulted in suicide. This is not a system that helps the inmates become functioning members of society nor do they gain a respect and pride for the society they live in. Extensive and second-tier punitive use of segregation/solidarity is hurting the process of rehabilitation of prisoners, as well as harming their health and well-being.

    The harms of segregation have been acknowledged in the international community and measures have been taken to properly serve the public and the inmates. A United Nations body recently called for the prohibition of segregation for juveniles and people with history of mental illness and have suggested that those who are taken to solitary to be kept there for no longer than 15 days. In the United Kingdom, solitary confinement as a disciplinary measurement for prisoners was greatly reduced during the twentieth century. By 2004, 40 out of 75,000 inmates held in England and Wales were placed in solitary confinement cells.

    Change is also being called for from within Canada. The Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial that greatly criticized solitary confinement and noted the various potential psychiatric damages such as anxiety, depression, perceptual distortions, paranoia and psychosis that often become evident after only days in solitary. They can become permanent, especially when the inmate is confined for a long period of time. Solitary worsens pre-existing medical conditions and results in new ones, including insomnia, anorexia and palpitations. This extensive psychiatric damage can cause inmates to self-harm, commit suicide and lash out at other prisoners and officers.

    The visible effects of solitary confinement are very obvious and counter productive to both the prisoners and the public. Releasing prisoners who have endured extensive damage to the public does not promote safety, nor does it allow the prisoner to gain trust in society and refrain from harming others. The extensive amount of evidence begs the question “Why have we seen no change in Canada?” The simplest answer lies in politics. The public does not want to see politicians seemingly defending or protecting prisoners. Therefore, for a politician to become elected they need to tell the public what they want to hear and unfortunately that means that prisoners’ rights are thrown out the window. The media also acts as an official opposition and would jump at the opportunity to call out a politician for protecting a not well-liked group in Canadian society. Therefore, progress has a unique and difficult barrier. Change has to begin with a better understanding from the people of what segregation means in Canadian prisons and the effects that it has on the safety of society and the prisoners themselves.

    In order for prisons to fulfill the fundamental need of reintegrating and rehabilitating prisoners into society by the time they are released, psychologically damaging disciplinary methods such as solitary confinement have to be eliminated. As an alternative, Canadian disciplinary institution must place more emphasis on programs that will help released prisoners find a steady source of employment and therefore address the link between poverty and crime. In addition, rehabilitation can help individuals who are mentally troubled and therefore turn to crime to support them. Finally, administrative use of segregation to solve overpopulation in prisons has to be eliminated. This goal can only be achieved if segregation is lawfully reported and paperwork is collected from both federal and provincial prisons.

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