A call for an end to soli­tary con­fine­ment

The McGill Daily - - Contents - —The Mcgill Daily ed­i­to­rial board

Ar­lene Gal­lone, a Mon­treal wo­man who spent nine months locked in iso­la­tion in a cell “the size of a wash­room,” is su­ing Cor­rec­tional Ser­vice Canada over her time in soli­tary con­fine­ment. She is spear­head­ing a class ac­tion law­suit de­mand­ing $10,000 in com­pen­sa­tion for any­one who has spent more than 72 hours in soli­tary con­fine­ment in the past three years. Gal­lone’s case is far from unique: Canada still uses soli­tary con­fine­ment as a puni­tive mea­sure in its prisons, de­spite the fact that it has been con­demned by the United Na­tions and is re­garded by ac­tivists and schol­ars as psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ture. It is also known to be dis­pro­por­tion­ately used against those who are Black, Indige­nous, and men­tally ill. De­scribed by a U.S. judge as “vir­tual in­cu­ba­tors of psy­choses,” soli­tary con­fine­ment units sub­ject peo­ple to ex­treme sen­sory, emo­tional, and so­cial de­pri­va­tion. This prac­tice is a sick­en­ing vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights, which calls into ques­tion why it con­tin­ues to be en­acted in Canada. As ev­i­denced by the ex­pe­ri­ences of Ar­lene Gal­lone and oth­ers in soli­tary con­fine­ment, Canada needs to elim­i­nate its use of soli­tary con­fine­ment.

Gal­lone’s case is not with­out prece­dent: In 2016, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment’s treat­ment of Adam Ca­pay sparked na­tional out­rage. Ca­pay is an Indige­nous man who spent four years in soli­tary con­fine­ment while await­ing trial at Thun­der Bay Jail, where 90 per cent of im­pris­oned peo­ple are Indige­nous. Ca­pay was con­fined to a base­ment cell sheathed in plex­i­glass with the lights on 24 hours a day – con­di­tions which in­duced mem­ory and speech prob­lems. The statis­tics pro­vided by On­tario’s Min­istry of Com­mu­nity Safety and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices for Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber 2015 re­veal that 19 per cent of the peo­ple im­pris­oned in the prov­ince’s fa­cil­i­ties (4,178 peo­ple) were at one point placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment. Of those, 38.2 per cent (1,594 peo­ple) had a men­tal health alert on their file. Roughly 1,383 of th­ese peo­ple were iso­lated for 15 days or longer (re­main­ing in soli­tary con­fine­ment for more than 15 days is con­sid­ered tor­ture by the UN). In Oc­to­ber, On­tario’s hu­man rights com­mis­sioner ac­cused the prov­ince of “alarm­ing and sys­temic overuse” of soli­tary con­fine­ment. “I felt like an an­i­mal,” Gal­lone told the CBC, speak­ing of her ex­pe­ri­ence. “You do not lock a dog in a cage for three months.”

Cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, mirroring the so­ci­eties that cre­ate them, inflict dis­pro­por­tion­ate vi­o­lence on marginal­ized peo­ple. Black Cana­di­ans, for ex­am­ple, only make up three per cent of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion but they make up ten per cent of the fed­eral prison pop­u­la­tion. Fur­ther­more, soli­tary con­fine­ment is dis­pro­por­tion­ately used to pun­ish Black peo­ple, and they are vic­tims in nearly 15 per cent of all in­stances of bru­tal­ity by au­thor­i­ties. Sim­i­larly, while Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple make up 4 per cent of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, as of Feb­ru­ary 2013, 23.2 per cent of the fed­eral in­mate pop­u­la­tion is Abo­rig­i­nal (First Na­tion, Métis or Inuit). Indige­nous peo­ple are also over­rep­re­sented in cases of soli­tary con­fine­ment, ac­count­ing for 31 per cent of all cases.

Pro­po­nents of soli­tary con­fine­ment ar­gue that peo­ple are of­ten iso­lated to pro­tect their own, or oth­ers’, safety in prison. How­ever, the con­di­tions of soli­tary con­fine­ment are not sim­ply ones of iso­la­tion, but also of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ture. This ar­gu­ment fur­ther fails to un­der­stand that the project of prison re­form is sim­ply a step to­wards prison abo­li­tion. Prisons are vi­o­lent in­sti­tu­tions that per­pet­u­ate vi­o­lence – and iso­lat­ing peo­ple in prison from one another will not solve that vi­o­lence. The only way to elim­i­nate the vi­o­lence of the prison sys­tem is to abol­ish it al­to­gether. We call for Canada to abol­ish soli­tary con­fine­ment, as part of a larger move­ment to­wards prison abo­li­tion. More im­me­di­ately, though, Gal­lone and other peo­ple who have been in soli­tary con­fine­ment de­serve gov­ern­ment com­pen­sa­tion for the harm in­flicted on them.

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