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Inmates Fight Indefinite Solitary Confinement

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - Canadian prisoners are routinely placed in solitary confinement for indefinite, prolonged periods, hampering rehabilitation and compounding sentences that may not fit the crime, civil liberties groups claim in court.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada sued the Attorney General of Canada on Jan. 19 in B.C. Supreme Court. They want provisions in the country's Corrections and Conditional Release Act struck down as unconstitutional.

Inmates in Canadian prisons can be placed in administrative or disciplinary segregation for prolonged periods with "very limited access with other human beings," and limited access to rehabilitation or psychiatric services. Prisoners under disciplinary segregation can serve a maximum of 45 days, but administrative segregation can be imposed indefinitely, according to the lawsuit.

"In practice, inmates spend months and years in administrative segregation. The decision to impose administrative segregation and the ongoing review of administrative segregation are not carried out by a judicial officer or other independent person or body," the complaint states.

"Unlike the disciplinary segregation regime, there is no independent decision-maker, no access to legal counsel at any administrative review, no standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt, and no time limits for confinement. While the administrative segregation regime is potentially a greater interference with liberty and a far more severe treatment than disciplinary segregation, it entails fewer protections for inmates."

Inmates placed in solitary are stigmatized and isolated, the groups claim, and are kept in the dark about when they'll be released into general prison populations. Inmates placed in prolonged solitary confinement can suffer from psychosis, depression, hallucinations, paranoia, aggression, loss of appetite, self-harm and suicidal behavior, and disruption of sleep patterns, according to the lawsuit.

"The harsh and punitive effects of prolonged segregation are such that many of the rehabilitative functions of incarceration, expected to be fulfilled at the time of an inmate's sentencing, are frustrated by the confinement," the complaint states. "The use of prolonged segregation has been the subject of critical commentary on a number of occasions by both domestic and international independent review bodies. In virtually all such studies or reviews, prolonged segregation - defined as extending beyond 15 days and not terminable at the option of the inmate - has been found to constitute either torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment."

The plaintiffs want to strike down sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as unconstitutional because they "unjustifiably infringe" on rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They are represented by Joseph J. Arvay and Alison M. Latimer with Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy.

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