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Use of solitary confinement jumps at Stony Mountain prison

Solitary confinement 'very inhumane,' says inmate group

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/4/2015 (1740 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Stony Mountain Institution's population has also increased.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Stony Mountain Institution's population has also increased.

Despite international calls to end the "inhumane" practice of solitary confinement, more inmates at Stony Mountain Institution have been spending time in the hole, federal statistics show.

Rights groups say the practice is part of the federal government's "get tough on crime" policy, sometimes tantamount to torture and even used on inmates suffering from mental-health issues.

Federal officials deny it - they say the practice is limited, dictated by security concerns and in no way a punishment.

While Stony Mountain's general population increased by 19 per cent from 2009 to 2014, the number of inmates subjected to "administrative segregation" jumped by 26 per cent, the government reported.

Despite Stony having a capacity of 809 inmates, the general population at the federal penitentiary rose to 1,154 from 968 between 2009-10 and 2013-14. In 2014, 353 men, 30 per cent of the total, spent at least one day in segregation.

Darren Fox, former inmate, says the rehabilitation aspect is totally missing in the federal prison system.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Darren Fox, former inmate, says the rehabilitation aspect is totally missing in the federal prison system.

Administrative segregation isolates inmates for what officials say is their safety or the safety of others. Segregation lasts for up to 23 hours per day, for an unspecified number of days.

The UN has denounced the practice as akin to torture in some conditions.

Sara Parkes, media relations adviser for Correctional Service Canada, cited security issues behind the rise in segregation numbers.

"The increase of involuntary administrative segregation placements can be explained by multiple factors that include an increase in inmates being assessed as requiring higher security, and an increase in the Correctional Service of Canada's efforts to detect and eliminate alcohol and drugs," Parkes said via email.

John Hutton, executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, which looks after the welfare of inmates, said the practice is unfair, whatever the reason.

"It's a very inhumane way to treat someone, locking them up for 23 hours a day in a cell," Hutton said,

Darren Fox spent 18 months in federal custody and 30 consecutive days of that in segregation. He sees it as just one more part of a broken system. "Personally I don't believe in the prison system in general. There's no real rehabilitation," said Fox, who served a sentence in Stony Mountain for possession for trafficking purposes. "Segregation is just another portion of the entire inhumane treatment you go through in jail. I wouldn't say it's any worse than any other aspect of jail."

Parkes said segregation is a safety measure.

"Canadian law and correctional policy allows for the use of administrative segregation in limited circumstances, when there is no reasonable alternative and for the shortest period of time necessary," she said. "It is not a form of punishment and every effort is made to alleviate the segregation status at the earliest appropriate time."

Lisa Kerr, a doctoral student studying law at New York University, said she believes the higher numbers expose a new-found focus on control in our prison system.

"We are seeing in Canada tougher sentencing measures coming in, we're seeing funding being stripped away from rehabilitation programs in the prison system," Kerr said. "We are seeing, through the federal Conservatives' tough-on-crime agenda, that the tone of our criminal justice policy has shifted, and it has shifted to a control-oriented logic that departs from our rehabilitative tradition."

Hutton points to the incidence of inmates in isolation who have mental-health problems. "It's happening not just because somebody has broken the rules, or is refusing to co-operate. People are placed in solitary confinement because they have mental-health issues," he said. "Sometimes that is seen as 'We're doing this to protect them,' and obviously that doesn't work if people are committing suicide in their cells."

Hutton points to the high-profile cases of Edward Snowshoe (who had been in isolation for 162 days before his 2014 suicide and had served time at Stony Mountain) and Ashley Smith (frequently subjected to isolation and "use of force" in various institutions before her 2007 suicide).

kathleen.saylors@freepress.mb.ca

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