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The Edmonton Remand Centre, where Ryan Prystay, 36, spent more than 400 consecutive days in solitary.Ben Lemphers/The Canadian Press

An Alberta judge has given an inmate 3.75 days credit for each day he served in solitary confinement, calling it a form of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Segregation ravages the body and the mind,” Justice Dawn Pentelechuk of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench said in written reasons released last week for sentencing Ryan Prystay to time served, plus 77 days, on multiple charges, including possession of methamphetamine and a loaded firearm.

Mr. Prystay, 36, spent more than 400 consecutive days in solitary in the Edmonton Remand Centre, after assaulting another inmate. It was not until nine months after his placement in solitary that he was told in a review what he needed to do to be released into the general population. He was charged in August, 2016, and pleaded guilty in October, 2018.

Canadian law generally allows judges to give 1.5 days credit for each served in pretrial custody. Justice Pentelechuk said she gave the heightened credit because of the length of time Mr. Prystay spent in solitary, the effects on his psychological and physical health (he suffered from anxiety and hopelessness, insomnia, auditory hallucinations and anti-social feelings), and a lack of “ascertainable standards” in the remand centre’s use of indefinite solitary.

Alberta’s Justice and Solicitor-General’s department said the Edmonton Remand Centre uses administrative segregation for inmates whose safety may be at risk or who pose a safety risk to others. It said the Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing the Prystay decision and will decide whether it will appeal.

Administrative segregation, the term used by correctional authorities for solitary confinement, is being used at “an alarming rate and for alarming lengths of time” in Canadian correctional institutions, she wrote. “It is a powerfully tempting way for institutions contending with inadequate funding and staffing shortages to address challenging circumstances within inmate populations. It is often used as a punitive measure to circumvent the more onerous due process requirements of disciplinary segregation.”

Mr. Prystay had pre-existing mental-health issues, has been a drug addict since the age of 13 and has a long criminal record. He was usually confined for 23 hours a day, with access twice a day to a “fresh-air room” – though its windows were mostly kept closed in winter.

Justice Pentelechuk said his placement in solitary was “devoid of procedural fairness and appropriate oversight.” She noted that a government expert in a B.C. constitutional challenge to the federal practice of administrative segregation testified that the time limit should be 60 days.

She could have gone further, by dismissing the charges against Mr. Prystay, but she said it was “not the clearest of cases” as to justify such an extreme move.

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