Prisoners’ Legal Services Calls on Health Care Professionals to Stand Up Against Solitary Confinement in Canada

Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) is rallying federal and BC health services bodies to develop policy to stop the abuse of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons.

The United Nations passed the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules) on May 22, 2015. These rules prohibit the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days for anyone, as it constitutes “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The rules also prohibit the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with mental or physical disabilities that would be exacerbated by solitary confinement.

Both the Correctional Service of Canada and BC Corrections allow prisoners with mental disabilities to be segregated. Neither jurisdiction has a limit on the length of time that prisoners may be held in solitary confinement.

PLS is aware of prisoners with mental disabilities being held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, in some cases while certified under the Mental Health Act. Health care professionals generally interview prisoners through their solitary confinement cell doors where other prisoners and guards can hear the interview. Psychological assessments tend to be cursory and to focus on risk of suicide or self-harm. There is no requirement that prisoners be removed from solitary confinement if there are health care concerns regarding a prisoner’s mental wellbeing.

PLS calls on the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, the BC College of Psychologists and the BC College of Registered Nurses to issue policy directives to their members clarifying that medical professionals are prohibited from playing any role in the solitary confinement of prisoners.

Click here to see PLS’ letter to the Canadian Medical Association.

PLS also requests policy that would require medical professionals to report the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with mental disabilities or solitary confinement for more than 15 days to the applicable regulatory College of Physicians, federal Correctional Investigator or provincial Investigation and Standards Office, and the federal or provincial Minister of Justice, as required by the Mandela Rules.

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