Proposing changes to limit the use of solitary confinement in provincial justice system

Jun 1, 2022 | 42-3, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

Today, I tabled legislation to ban the use of prolonged solitary confinement in provincial correctional facilities for both adults and youth.

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. 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.

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 6 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 4 hours per day outside of their cell, including a 1 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.

Quote:

Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin, Director, Canadian Collaboration for Prison Health and Education, the School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, and the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement

“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”.

[Transcript]

BILL M2010 — CORRECTION STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2022

A. Olsen:
I move that a bill intituled the Correction Statutes Amendment Act, 2022, of which notice has been given in my name on the order paper.

Introduction and First Reading of Bills

BILL M2010 — CORRECTION STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2022

A. Olsen:

I move that a bill intituled the Correction Statutes Amendment Act, 2022, of which notice has been given in my name on the order paper, be introduced and read a first time now.

The United Nations defines solitary confinement of more than 15 days as torture. The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in 2019 that prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement violates prisoners’ rights to life, liberty and security of the person, under section 7 of the Charter. Despite these findings, solitary confinement is commonly used in this province. On any given day, like today, there are 33 individuals in solitary who have been there longer than 15 days, some longer than 60 days. Both adults and youth are subjected to this torture.

Solitary confinement disproportionately impacts Indigenous people, in particular Indigenous women and girls. Close to a quarter of the people in solitary confinement in this province identify as Indigenous, despite making up only 6 percent of our province’s population. In February of this year the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs called solitary confinement “a re-traumatizing, abusive and colonial form of control over Indigenous bodies.”

This bill seeks to prohibit the use of prolonged solitary confinement and change standards of living for people in the justice system. This bill prohibits a person from being held in solitary confinement if they are pregnant; at risk of self-harm or suicide; have a prescribed disability; or require medical observation. Finally, this bill requires the provincial director of correctional centres to publish annual, disaggregated statistics on the number of individuals held in solitary confinement. This bill follows the advocacy of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the B.C. Ombudsperson, the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth and a decision from the B.C. Court of Appeal.

I want to thank the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement for their advocacy and work to bring this to my attention. Thank you to the members of this chamber. I hope we have a chance to debate it.

Mr. Speaker:

The question is first reading of the bill.

Motion approved.
A. Olsen:
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M2010, Correction Statutes Amendment Act, 2022, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

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