How long will Ottawa ignore our broken prison system?

The federal government has been ignoring the evidence on sound corrections policy for too long. Now a high-profile case against three guards could force the feds finally to face facts.

A replica of a solitary confinement cell at Kingston Penitentiary.

Toronto Star file photo

A replica of a solitary confinement cell at Kingston Penitentiary.

The Star Policards: 0 Councillors mentioned in this article

It has been three months since the coroner’s jury in the Ashley Smith inquest delivered the verdict of homicide and made a series of recommendations designed to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The suggestions included limiting the use of solitary confinement, encouraging transfers of seriously mentally ill prisoners to treatment facilities, and promoting adequate oversight of prison conditions.

So far there has been no response from the federal government or Correctional Services of Canada to those recommendations.

Despite assurances from correctional authorities that significant progress has been made since Smith’s death six years ago, the CBC’s recent graphic report on the condition of mentally ill inmates in Millhaven Institution indicates that few improvements have in fact been implemented.

Since the Regional Treatment Centre at Kingston Penitentiary was closed last October, most of its prisoners are being housed temporarily at Collins Bay Institution. But Kingston’s most seriously mentally ill inmates are now in the former solitary confinement unit of a maximum security penitentiary in circumstances the Correctional Investigator has described as “grossly inadequate.”

Deteriorating mental health and possible suicide are well-known consequences of the solitary confinement, or “administrative segregation,” of prisoners. Three inmates committed suicide in a B.C. federal penitentiary’s segregation unit within an eight-month period ending in February 2013.

Not only did the jurors in the Ashley Smith Inquest recommend limits on the use of segregation, the Canadian Human Rights Commission recommended its abolition for those with serious or acute mental illness. Many academics, medical professionals and NGOs in Canada have called for limits to administrative segregation, particularly for people with mental health challenges, and many American states are now reforming their practices….ewad more:

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