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editorial

It says a lot about Correctional Service Canada, the agency that runs federal prisons, that a proposal on its part to stop violating the human rights of vulnerable inmates is seen as miraculous.

The CSC still has no intention of allowing independent oversight of its use of solitary confinement, and it remains entirely uninterested in the fact that the United Nations says that putting someone in solitary for more than 15 consecutive days amounts to torture.

But, heavens be praised, it is thinking about no longer throwing mentally ill inmates, pregnant women, the physically disabled and the terminally ill into the hole.

These proposals and others are included in a draft Correctional Service document that was distributed to stakeholders and to critics of the CSC's current, outdated practices.

They have been greeted with mild optimism for the simple reason that the possibility of any reform at all is being taken as evidence of a crack in the CSC's armour of self-delusion.

The people who run our federal prisons insist that their practices are world class. In fact, they are dinosaurs when it comes to solitary confinement, and their draft document is proof of that.

Compare it to the recent announcement by the Ontario government that it will introduce legislation in the fall that reflects the numerous recommendations found in an independent review of the province's chronic misuse of solitary confinement.

In doing so, Ontario is expected to impose a hard cap of 15 continuous days in solitary for an inmate, and a limit of 60 days total in a year without the consent of the corrections minister.

Like the CSC, Ontario will also ban solitary for pregnant women and the mentally ill. But unlike the CSC, it will bring about its reforms through legislation, not through a change of departmental rules – which can be easily undone.

And, as mentioned, there is still zero sign on the part of the CSC that it is prepared to allow independent oversight of its use of solitary confinement – again, something that Ontario seems to be on the verge of doing.

The CSC's proposals are a self-serving exercise in avoiding the real issues raised by its own chronic misuse of solitary confinement. If that's the best the agency can do, Ottawa should follow Ontario's lead, and draft legislation to get the job done.