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Edmonton Institution in Edmonton Alberta on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. Edward Snowshoe, from the Northwest Territories, committed suicide there in 2010 after the 24-year-old spent 162 consecutive days in segregation. Amber Bracken for the Globe and Mail

AMBER BRACKEN/The Globe and Mail

One in four: That's the proportion of prisoners in Canada's federal penitentiaries who have spent time in solitary confinement. According to figures provided to The Globe and Mail by Howard Sapers, the Ombudsman for federal prisoners, of the 21,100 men and women who flowed through the federal prison system in the last fiscal year, nearly 5,100 were at one point in isolation. Mr. Sapers isn't happy about this. Canadians shouldn't be, either.

The problems with solitary confinement are well documented. It is well known that it makes mentally well people sick and mentally ill people sicker. Lengthy deprivation of most human contact is a kind of torture. In a prison system where a high percentage of prisoners have mental problems, and are in need of more extensive mental health treatment, solitary is anti-treatment.

All of this is being given new attention as a result of the case of Edward Snowshoe. Mr. Snowshoe was not well when he went into prison; as his condition deteriorated, the system responded with solitary confinement. His mental health predictably worsened and he eventually killed himself.

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There are some people who say, well, he was a criminal. (He was: he committed an armed robbery.) Can't do the time? Don't do the crime. But consider this: Almost everyone in a Canadian prison is going to get out. They are doing time, usually a relative short time, not life. These inmates are your future neighbours. They will one day walk the same streets as you, ride the same public transit, frequent the same corner store and visit the same shopping mall.

Do you want your future neighbours to have their mental issues treated, or exacerbated? Would you like them to come out more or less likely reoffend? Seen in this light, the widespread use of solitary confinement isn't just immoral. It's illogical.

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