Editorial Reducing solitary confinement doesn t need more study. It needs action


Ontario Corrections Minister David Orazietti actually said this on Monday, about his government’s overuse of solitary confinement in provincial prisons: “After a thorough internal review and extensive consultations with a broad range of experts, it is becoming apparent to me … that a more thorough and comprehensive review into the complex nature of the corrections system in Ontario needs to be conducted.”

Mr. Orazietti’s statement will never appear on a monument to political greatness. The only possible interpretation of it is that a thorough review has led him to conclude that he needs to do a thorough review. That’s the kind of political inaction that exasperates voters. It is especially aggravating because there has already been so much international study of the problematic issue of solitary confinement that has led to real conclusions.

The United Nations, for instance, says putting a healthy, adult prisoner in solitary for more than 15 days in a row is a form of torture, and that it should never be used on youths and mentally ill inmates. Howard Sapers, the federal prisons ombudsman, says the maximum time in solitary should be 15 days. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has called for a complete ban on solitary in Ontario prisons. The union representing Ontario corrections workers says segregation is no place for inmates with mental illness, and that the province should build separate facilities for them. In January, President Barack Obama banned solitary for juvenile offenders in U.S. federal prisons.

On Monday, along with announcing his latest review, Mr. Orazietti introduced interim measures to limit solitary confinement to 15 days when used as a disciplinary measure. But that will cover less than 10 per cent of Ontario prisoners in solitary. The other 90 per cent are still being put in solitary for “administrative” reasons and are being kept there for indefinite periods. Worse still, hundreds of them suffer from mental illnesses.

There is no question that corrections systems are complex. But the issue of solitary confinement is not. It is abusive, and it harms inmates suffering from mental illness, making it harder for them to rejoin society when their sentences are complete. Mr. Orazietti can request all the studies he wants, but it won’t hide the fact that Ontario’s perpetual inaction on solitary confinement is failing not only inmates but also the broader public.

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