Segregation : Progress?

Ivan Zinger, the interim Correctional Investigator (prison ombudsman) has release a report on progress by the Correctional Service of Canada in controlling and reducing the use of segregation (solitary confinement) arising from recommendations stemming from the Ashley Smith matter, and others.

The good news: admissions to segregation are down and so is the duration of confinements

The not-so-good news: Much of this reduction is due to inmates being confined to “alternatives” to segregation such as “mental health” and “special needs” units. As the Correctional Investigator points out, these units can involve up to 22 hours cell time per day and there are no hard data on the nature of such alternatives.

I would imagine, as well, that there is very little information on due process (procedural fairness) for such placements.

I remember in he 90’s, when CSC was compelled to clean up its act on segregation, that it did so in part via “transition units”, sort of a half-way placement between solitary and open population. In the event, such units were usually seg by another name and did not provide even the procedural protections (reviews and administrative fairness) for administrative segregation under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

I look for more assurance that the Correctional Service is really taking a new cultural approach to counter the tendency to use segregation as a Skinnerian mechanism to keep inmates in line.


The essence of the problem is that prison staff regard isolation as a means to demonstrate and maintain their power over inmates who challenge there authority.

I would say that, most of the time, segregation, at least as an initial step, is used legitimately where (as stated in the Corrections and conditional Release Act) there is a reasonable belief that maintain the inmate in open population would create safety or security risks, or would impair an on-going investigation.

The problem is that segregation can be used without sufficient justification, and even based on untrue allegations, to exert power over inmates and to indicate that segregation will be used for that purpose irrespective of legislative or policy rules.

It can also be used simply to rid staff of the need to manage persistently irritating inmates ( including those with mental issues that cause them to act inappropriately).

Faced with staff resistance to decisions to counter unnecessary segregation, and with the prospect of a release from segregation that goes terribly wrong, managers can be less willing than they should be to counter the attitudes of some members of the thin blue line of  Correctional Officers. At the end of the day, Wardens have to rely on the support of their officers.

I wish CSC well in its house cleaning but, frankly, I’ve been there. And the only thing that holds any promise in controlling misconduct is some form of independent control of segregation decisions, free from the influences that can hamper in-house decision-making.

I can’t accept that calling spade a shovel is the solution.






























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