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Canada’s former Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers speaks during a news conference in 2013. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Canada’s former Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers speaks during a news conference in 2013. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Globe editorial

Ontario has no reasons left to delay its reform of solitary confinement Add to ...

Few people in this country are as blunt about the cruel and dehumanizing effects of solitary confinement as Howard Sapers.

Therefore, it is a credit to the Ontario provincial government that the plainspoken former federal prison ombudsman is being brought in for the next three years or so.

It’s good news, but then again advice is only as valuable as the attention paid to it.

Mr. Sapers doesn’t formally begin his job as a paid adviser to the Minister of Correctional Services until January, and isn’t expected to issue any written recommendations until he’s spent 60 days on the job. A wider-ranging report will follow by spring.

That’s fine. Ontario’s prison system has nuances that separate it from the federal system, and time is required to master them. But Mr. Sapers is already on record about a key aspect of his brief.

It is beyond dispute that solitary confinement can have devastating consequences for those who are submitted to it for extended periods. The United Nations considers it torture.

In a report issued earlier this year, Mr. Sapers concluded that alternatives must be found for inmates who suffer from mental illness – as well as those exhibiting suicidal or self-injurious behaviour. He also called for “robust external review” of cases involving extended or multiple placements.

So there’s no harm in having Mr. Sapers conduct yet another review of Ontario’s jail system, but there’s no reason to dawdle when it comes to cutting back on the use of solitary confinement.

It took a public outcry over the case of accused murderer Adam Capay, an aboriginal inmate who has spent an incredible four years in isolation awaiting trial, to shame the province into action.

Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti recently announced a 15-day cap on solitary confinement when it is used as a disciplinary measure. That’s good, but it still leaves the door open to extended stays in solitary in cases of “administrative segregation,” as was the case with Mr. Capay. The move constitutes progress but more change is obviously needed.

Given what we know about Mr. Sapers, who has a habit of speaking truth to power, there can be no excuse if none is made in the coming weeks.

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