Canada’s correctional investigator, Howard Sapers released his 2014-15 annual report which takes aim at solitary confinement and aboriginal overrepresentation.

Canada’s correctional investigator, Howard Sapers released his 2014-15 annual report which takes aim at solitary confinement and aboriginal overrepresentation.
Photo Credit: Frred Chartrand/Canadian Press

Prison ombudsman calls solitary risky, damaging

In even stronger than ususal tones, Canada’s correctional investigator has again called for limits on the use of solitary confinement in penitentiaries. The investigator is charged with hearing complaints from those incarcerated for more than two years, investigating deaths in custody, and he issues annual reports which look at systemic issues.

‘Segregation is a dangerous place’ for the mentally ill

Solitary confinement, also called segregation, is a special focus of the most recent report. “We have concluded that segregation is a dangerous place for mentally ill or suicidal or self-injuring offenders,” says ombudsman Howard Sapers. His study found that nearly half—14 out of 30—suicides over a three-year period took place in segregation.

“So clearly there are some issues with who is going into segregation, how long they’re staying and the circumstances under which they can be removed from segregation,” says Sapers.


Limit segregation time for all, says ombudsman

No one diagnosed with a serious mental illness should go into segregation, he says, nor should anyone who is suicidal or has a history of self-harm. He also says no stay in solitary should last more than 30 days and it should not be used “as an alternative to the disciplinary process.”

Indigenous overrepresentation ‘a very sad milestone’

The overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in penitentiaries is also of grave concern to Sapers. “We have reached a very sad milestone in Canada. Our federal prison population is now comprised about 25 per cent of people of aboriginal heritage. Every year their percentage goes up and it’s now more than one in four. That’s a shocking level of overrepresentation. Indigenous Canadians make up about four per cent of the general population.”

Indigenous women make up a third of the women who are incarcerated. While the reasons for that need to be addressed outside the prison system, Sapers says the Correctional Service of Canada has an obligation to treat indigenous inmates in a way that improves their chances of not returning to prison after they have been released.

Recommendations well-received

Health issues are raised in the report including care for inmates with fetal alcohol syndrome and better treatment for those suffering from hepatitis C. Sapers also suggests changes to offender employment, conditions of detention and the resolution of offender complaints.

It appears the government is open to these recommendations. Sapers notes many of them were included in mandate letters that were send by the newly-elected prime minister to his cabinet ministers. He adds the response he has received to his report from the Correctional Service suggest the recommendations are being well received.

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