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Solitary Confinement

The administrative segregation regime in Canada was replaced by Structured Intervention Units (SIUs) in 2019. The end of administrative segregation was lauded as the end of solitary confinement in Canada, but this is incorrect. The practice of solitary confinement continues today. Ongoing forms of solitary confinement include: SIUs, observation cells, lockdowns, dry cells, and secure units.

The underlying practices that connect all of these forms of solitary confinement are the further restriction of liberties of people in prison, the denial of meaningful interaction, and isolation indeterminate periods of time.

CAEFS advocates for the elimination of all practices of solitary confinement on the grounds that these practices have detrimental impacts on the wellbeing of people in prison, that they do not align with the Correctional Service of Canada’s obligation to utilize ‘least restrictive measures’, and that they are a human rights violation.

  • Why was the administrative segregation regime replaced by Structured Intervention Units?

    The administrative segregation regime in Canada was replaced by SIUs through amendment Bill C-83 to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA). This amendment was ratified after court challenges in Ontario and British Columbia determined that the practice of administrative segregation in Canadian federal prisons under the CCRA was unconstitutional.  

  • What concerns exist with the implementation of Structured Intervention Units?

    Studies into the implementation of Structured Intervention Units (SIUs) have demonstrated that this new regime is being used to circumvent the illegality of administrative segregation practices, while continuing to subject people to the same human rights violations as they were prior to 2019.

    For example, two of the stated key distinctions between SIU regime and administrative segregation regime was the length of the placement and the amount of time offered outside of the cell. Yet, the first study on early-stage SIU implementation demonstrated that only 5.7% of recorded SIU incidents achieved 4-hours outside of the cell every day and that nearly half of person-stays in the SIUs lasted between 16 and 291 days (which marked the end of the study).

  • What is “Dry Celling”?

    “Dry-celling” is a form of solitary confinement where someone suspected of carrying contraband is held under direct observation, with the lights at all time, and with no running water for an indefinite period of time. Lisa Adams, who had been held in a dry cell for 16 days while incarcerated at the Nova Institution, challenged the law that gave prison management the authority to hold her in a “dry cell” for an indefinite period of time using sections 7, 12, and 15 of the Charter. The Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia worked closely with Ms. Adams, along with the BC Civil Liberties Association and CAEFS, to provide support and to bring public attention to the cruel and inhumane practice of dry-celling. In November 2021, a Nova Scotia supreme court judge struck down the law that permits the use of dry celling, finding that it breaches section 15 of the CharterJudge Keith gave the Federal Government 6 months to change the law to bring it in line with the Charter.

    In April 2022, As part of the 2022 Federal Budget, the government proposed the introductions of amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (Act) that will prohibit the Correctional Service of Canada from placing people in prison, who are suspected of concealing contraband in the vaginal cavity, in dry cells. A measure that, they say, will bring the Act into compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  • What other methods of solitary confinement are practiced in Canada?

    Observation Cells: If someone in prison is deemed to be at moderate to high risk of attempting suicide, the warden can authorize their placement in an observation cell. Observation cells have a window in the door and lights which are kept on at all hours, enabling continuous observation by CSC staff.

    Lockdowns: Wardens at federal prisons regularly order lockdowns for periods that can range from hours to weeks. During lockdowns, people may be allowed out of their cell, room, or living unit for only short periods of time to take a shower or make a phone call. In more extreme situations, they may not be allowed out at all. The reasoning for lockdowns can vary widely, from searches to staff shortages, and from  construction work to other operational or administrative reasons.

    Secure Units: In Federal prisons designated for women, secure units are isolated from the general prison population and contain maximum security cells (or ‘max pods’). Women and gender-diverse people classified as maximum security are confined to those cells and a small common area for 23 hours a day. When there is a lockdown people in the secure units are confined entirely to their cells and are denied access to programs, school, mental health supports and sometimes even showers. In Canada, people sentenced to life in federal institutions designated for women often spend their first two-years of institutionalization in max pods. This is not a sentence or security requirement, but rather a chosen practice by CSC.

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