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CPLA's Jennifer Metcalfe speaks on Bill S-230 to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

14 Dec 2023 1:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

On December 14, 2023, CPLA vice president Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director of Prisoners' Legal Services, spoke to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs regarding Bill S-230. Read Jennifer's remarks below. 

The CPLA supports this bill. 

Bill S-230, section 2

We agree it is important that people in all forms of solitary confinement, including in dry cells, lockdowns and suicide observation cells, have procedural protections.

We are also concerned that people experience solitary-like conditions through institutional movement routines in many maximum-security prisons, that can be more restrictive than SIU. So, the comparison to the mainstream population may not be helpful.

We recommend expanding protection against isolation by adopting the language of the US “End Solitary Confinement Act”, which would require 14 hours per day out of cell in shared spaces, including at least 7 hours of programs and education. Under this bill, cell confinement for de-escalation or lockdowns is limited to 4 hours per day, and 12 hours per week.

Bill S-230, sections 3 and 4

We support health care assessments by independent clinicians and transferring people with disabling mental health issues to a hospital, or mental health facility, if they wish.

We are especially concerned that people with mental health disabilities are being held in isolation, and CSC-employed health care staff are not advocating for their patients to be removed from isolation when their mental health deteriorates.

Research by Drs. Anthony Doob and Jane Sprott found that CSC health providers recommended removal from SIU in only 0.15% of cases [3 out of 1,983 SIU stays they looked at], despite their estimation that 28% of SIU stays constituted solitary confinement and that 10% of stays constituted torture under the UN definition [of stays of more than 15 days duration].

In our view, “disabling mental health issues” should go beyond a DSM-5 diagnosis and should include the symptoms of solitary, including self harm and suicidal ideation, and trauma that result from uses of force. We have clients who are engaging in regular self-harm and suicide attempts who are turned away from CSC Regional Treatment Centres.

Everyone with a disabling mental health disability would not be suitable for detention in a hospital. We recommend amending s 29.02 to include community-based mental health services, to allow people to be placed in health care environments that are most appropriate for them. 

We recommend removing the word “including” from s 29.02, so it would read:

the Commissioner must authorize that person’s transfer to a hospital, including or any mental health facility

Bill S-230, section 5

The CPLA supports judicial oversight of placement in SIU of more than 48 hours. CSC and IEDM reviews do not allow people to meaningfully exercise the right to counsel. CSC, and now IEDMs, refuse to share documents with counsel for reviews. Judicial oversight would address this problem, among others.  

Any review of SIU placements must have the authority to order alternatives besides being returned to the mainstream population of a maximum-security prison, which has comparable levels of isolation to SIU.

Bill S-230, section 8

The CPLA supports expanding opportunities for disadvantaged groups to serve sentences in the community. We suggest adding poverty to the definition, and recommend legislation require at least equal funding for community-based alternatives to prison. This could be done through a significant shift of funding from CSC to community-based services.

Unfairness in the Administration of a sentence

The CPLA also supports judicial oversight of unjust administration of the sentence.

Joey Toutsaint’s situation provides a good example of the need for this amendment. He spent 2,180 days in segregation and continues to be isolated since the regime changed. He is unlikely to be able to get out of maximum security because he experiences the normal responses to isolation and trauma, which include anxiety, angry outbursts, depression, paranoia, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Joey Toutsaint is in the same position as many other Indigenous people who are twice as likely to be classified to maximum security, (Indigenous women are 4x more likely to be maxed) and less likely to be released on parole.

Joey Toutsaint’s continued imprisonment is not fulfilling the purpose of CSC; it is not “safe” or “humane” and he is not being assisted in his “rehabilitation” or “reintegration into the community”.

The ability to apply for a reduction of sentence to court for the reasons set out in the Bill, would significantly improve the basic rights of people in prison.

The Canadian Prison Law Association is a non-profit organization.

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