B.C. Greens table legislation to prohibit solitary confinement

THE B.C. Greens on Wednesday tabled legislation to ban the use of prolonged solitary confinement in provincial correctional facilities for both adults and youth.

The B.C. Greens  point out that solitary confinement is defined by the United Nations (UN) as any confinement, seclusion, or segregation of individuals for more than 22 hours a day without meaningful human contact. Solitary confinement of more than 15 days is considered torture by the UN Nelson Mandela Rules. Despite these findings, on any given day in our provincial correctional facilities, 33 people are held in violation of these human rights principles.

“Solitary confinement is a dehumanizing and insidious form of psychological harm,” said Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and member of the Tsartlip First Nation. “We know that solitary confinement does not help rehabilitate the adults and youth in the corrections system, and in fact harms them. Solitary confinement has disproportionate effects on Indigenous people. Despite all of this, prolonged solitary confinement is used far too often in British Columbia. This bill enshrines rights to fair treatment for the human beings in our corrections facilities, and accountability for the public to know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

This bill aligns with the 2022 resolution from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) to ban solitary confinement, a 2021 report from the B.C. Ombudsperson about youth detention in the province, and the 2019 decision from the BC Court of Appeal that found prolonged solitary confinement to be inhumane and unconstitutional, say the B.C. Greens.

The Correction Statutes Amendment Act makes the following improvements to provincial standards for solitary confinement:

  • Restricting the use of solitary confinement to 72 hours, and prohibiting the use of solitary confinement for more than six days a year for an individual;
  • Prohibiting a person from being held in solitary confinement if they are pregnant or recently post-partum, are endangering themselves, have a prescribed disability, or require medical observation;
  • Giving people the opportunity for at least four hours per day outside of their cell, including a one hour window for exercise in the open air;
  • Specifying that cells must provide darkness at night and natural light during the day, and a window that allows for meaningful human interaction; and,
  • Requiring the provincial director of correctional centres to publish annual disaggregated statistics on the number of individuals held in solitary confinement.

Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin, Director, Canadian Collaboration for Prison Health and Education, School of Population and Public Health, UBC, and the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement, said: “From my 16 years of experience as a prison physician, I conclude that the use of solitary confinement does not enhance an individual’s mental health – it worsens it, especially among those with pre-existing mental health difficulties. On behalf of the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement, we congratulate MLA Adam Olsen and call on his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly to support this Bill.”

Background:

  • In response to the 2019 ruling of the B.C. Court of Appeal, the BC NDP government introduced an amendment to the BC Correction Act Regulation in 2020 that introduced a 15-day limit on solitary confinement.
  • There were 8,281 new admissions to provincial correctional facilities in 2020/21, and despite the regulatory amendment, on average 33 individuals on any given day had been in solitary confinement for more than 15 days. An average of 10 of those individuals had been in solitary confinement for more than 60 days.
  • 24% of individuals with experience in solitary confinement identify as Indigenous, and 35% of the incarcerated population identify as Indigenous, despite representing only 6% of the province’s population.
  • Of the individuals placed in solitary confinement, 77% had been placed there for administrative reasons, not discipline.
  • The federal government promised to end the practice of solitary confinement in 2020, however reports find that it is still being used under the name “structured intervention units”.

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