Feds to replace solitary confinement with new form of inmate separation
OTTAWA – Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has introduced a new piece of legislation that proposes to overhaul how federal inmates are separated from the general prison population, eliminating solitary confinement as it is known. The new legislation also allows the use of body scanners in the federal prison system.
Bill C-83 proposes several changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, including replacing the current administrative and disciplinary segregation system with "structured intervention units." These new units, or SIUs will allow inmates to still be separated from the general inmate population if they cannot exist safely among other prisoners.
Inmates placed into SIUs will have four hours a day outside their cell, as well as two hours a day of "meaningful" human contact. Currently inmates in segregation are permitted two hours outside of their cell, and are not entitled to any human contact.
"This proposed legislation would transform the way Federal Corrections manages inmates whose behaviour poses a security and safety risk that cannot be managed within the mainstream inmate population," a senior departmental official told reporters during a background briefing on the new bill.
"This approach will allow us to maintain those vital levels of safety and security within correctional facilities, the capacity to separate offenders from other offenders," Goodale said, speaking with reporters in the House of Commons foyer. He added that, at the same time, federal corrections officers will "be better able to continue programming and interventions and addressing mental heal issues and so forth, which was not possible under the previous administrative segregation approach."
In a previous piece of legislation that has stalled in the House, the government had suggested a 15-day limit on the number of consecutive days a person could spend in segregation, though under this proposed SIU system, there is no prescribed cap on the number of days. Instead, officials say they will monitor an inmate’s progress as a key indicator, with the aim of immersing them back into the general population as soon as possible.
The Canadian Press has reported that Bill C-83 will replace the previous legislation. It was never debated and will no longer be pursued, according to a spokesman from Goodale's office.
The bill also changes the rules to allow staff members the use of body scan imaging technology as an alternative to body cavity searches to prevent contraband from entering prisons.
It also proposes to enhance health services for all inmates, including access to patient advocacy services to help them better understand their healthcare rights, and recognizing the importance of clinical independence to health care professionals within federal correctional facilities.
The legislation includes new provisions that, in all correctional decisions, background and systemic factors have to be considered in the cases of Indigenous inmates. It also replaces the term "aboriginal" with the word "Indigenous" throughout the Act.
Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus criticized the move to eradicate solitary confinement, alleging in a statement that the Liberals are "softening the law to make prison time easier for criminals."
Bill C-83 permits victims who attend Parole Board of Canada hearings access to audio recordings of the proceedings after the fact, to alleviate many participants' difficulty fully processing them as they happen.
In a statement, Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly said she was supportive of the new legislation and will watch its progress through Parliament to "ensure that updates to our policies and training are in place to support its implementation once it comes into force."
"I believe these legislative changes will transform the federal correctional system while ensuring that our institutions provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive to inmate rehabilitation, staff safety and the protection of the public. They will also help ensure that our correctional system continues to be progressive and takes into account the needs of a diverse offender population," Kelly said.
The government is putting up more money for staff and training to run these structured intervention units but won't say exactly how much until the federal budget is released sometime next year.
Stan Stapleton, the national president of the Union of Safety and Justice Employees told CTV News that the legislation will require this additional funding and more staff in federal institutions in order to be effective.
"There is evidence that shows that strong rehabilitative programs make communities safer and create a safer environment for both employees and offenders inside institutions," Stapleton said.
"The reality is these offenders -- almost all of them -- will return to the community. And so if we simply lock them up and throw away the key, we’re not providing them with the tools that they require in order to safely reintegrate back into society."
The bill comes after Ontario and British Columbia Superior Court decisions that found that the use of segregation was unconstitutional, and is meant to implement more than 100 recommendations from the coroner’s inquest into the death of Ashley Smith.
Goodale called the bill "urgent," citing the months-away deadlines the courts have placed on the federal government in their respective decisions.
Smith's 2007 prison death was ruled a homicide after the teen choked to death in her isolation cell. Smith, who had spent more than 1,000 days in segregation, choked herself to death with a cloth strip in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. Guards who videotaped her death testified that they did not intervene in time to save Smith's life because they were under strict orders from prison management not to enter her cell.
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