OTTAWA – The country’s top prison official says Canada is working on a “new model” for solitary confinement, in the wake of criticisms over the government’s handling of mentally ill inmates such as Ashley Smith.
Don Head, commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, said the prison service plans to present a report to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney outlining revised options for segregation in the coming months.
“We’re looking at a new model for segregation within CSC,” Head said in a brief interview Tuesday.
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“Wait to see what we come back with in terms of our model, because there’s a lot of issues we have to weigh, and we have to make sure that we get the model correct. So you’ll see something in a couple months.”
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Head wouldn’t elaborate on whether the new model would end indefinite solitary confinement, or cap consecutive segregation at no more than 15 days, as recommended in the Ontario coroner’s inquest into Smith’s death.
The jury also recommended that offenders spend no more than 60 days a year in segregation.
The prison system itself acknowledges the use of segregation, especially for women offenders and those with mental health issues, worsens overall mental health and psychological functioning.
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In its response to more than 100 recommendations last December, the Correctional Service said it accepts that long periods in administrative segregation “is generally not conducive to healthy living or meeting the goals of the correctional planning process.”
Still, the CSC refused to end indefinite solitary confinement because it would cause “undue risk to the safe management of the federal correctional system.” The government committed instead to reducing its reliance on long-term segregation by developing new options by June 2015.
A spokeswoman said CSC identifies inmates who may be at risk of being segregated early in their sentence. The service is also developing a screening tool to identify offenders who would benefit from not being in segregation, as well as a strategy to reduce the number and length of segregation placements and to prevent “unwarranted admissions.”
“This strategy is intended to reframe the thinking about how segregation is used in CSC and strengthen oversight and decision-making,” Melissa Hart said in an email.
“The goal of the strategy is to reduce the reliance on segregation by creating better options and finding more innovative alternatives for safe reintegration. Research is being planned to complement the strategy and further investigate areas of concern such as the effects of long-term segregation.”
Smith was 19 when she choked herself to death inside Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., after spending most of her 11 months in custody isolated from other inmates and staff.
The coroner’s jury ruled her death a homicide, but no one is criminally responsible.
Smith’s mother, Coralee, has said she is disappointed it took the government more than a year to respond to the recommendations and that mistreatment of inmates continues to this day.