Proposed law to limit segregation would help countless inmates
By Jennifer Pritchett, Associate Editor
The federal government’s plan to introduce legislation limiting how long prison inmates can remain in solitary confinement is welcome news to those who have been subject to the archaic practice dating back to the Middle Ages, says British Columbia criminal lawyer Dr. Gary Botting.
“In reality, solitary confinement is a form of social sensory deprivation that is guaranteed to drive the sanest person insane,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.
The bill, once passed into law, would impose a statutory framework establishing a time limit for what prison authorities call “administrative segregation,” reports the Canadian Press.
Botting, principal of Gary N.A. Botting, Barrister and Solicitor, cites one case where his client was imprisoned in segregation for weeks and eventually covered the window of his cell with his own feces.
“He was left there, covered in it, for days,” he says. “A guard finally tipped me off, and I paid my client a visit. It was one of the most disturbing sights I have experienced in my quarter-century of practice.”
Botting, who notes the United Nations has said segregation is a form of torture, called the police in this matter and made allegations of torture against the prison warden. No charges were laid.
“Granted, the prison cleaned up the place but the solitary confinement of my client continued,” he says.
Botting, whose practice focuses on dangerous offender law, says in another case, an inmate became so disturbed that he went on a hunger strike to protest solitary confinement.
“Correctional staff shone bright lights on him day and night, ostensibly to ‘watch’ him because they said he might do himself injury — by not eating,” he says. “The guards kept him in solitary the whole time, deprived of sleep, until, weeks later, he capitulated, and ate.”
Under the current law, the Correctional Service of Canada is required to release prisoners from segregation at the earliest possible time, says the wire service.
“But this law is more honoured in the breach than in the keeping,” says Botting.
He says there are cases of accused dangerous offenders whose aberrant behaviour is “directly traceable to the months or even years spent in solitary confinement.”
The new law would establish a segregation time limit of 21 days initially, and then 15 days once the legislation has been the law of the land for 18 months, says the Canadian Press.
The legislation also proposes amending the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole Act to make them compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, says the article.
“Corrections is by definition meant to correct or adjust someone who is socially malfunctioning,” Botting says.
“Once that end is achieved, early parole allows the individual to function as a contributing member of society. The abolition of early parole meant unnecessarily keeping in prison people who were able to adjust to the norms of society, despite earlier offences that had been punished or ‘corrected’ by a period of incarceration with appropriate programming.”
The reinstating of an oral hearing after a suspension, termination or revocation of parole is a necessary safeguard, Botting adds.
The legislation would also allow offenders convicted of an eligible offence before March 28, 2011, to once again have an accelerated parole review, says the wire service.
“I trust that a similar accelerated review will apply to designated dangerous offenders,” Botting adds, “and that parole boards across the country will be monitored more closely.”