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Editorials Globe editorial: Ending the misuse of solitary confinement will cost money, but it has to be done

Call it the revenge of Adam Capay: The Ontario government announced Thursday that it will build a new prison to replace the dilapidated Thunder Bay jail where Mr. Capay was left to rot in solitary confinement for more than four years.

That was just one of a number of welcome responses to a new report by Howard Sapers on the misuse of segregation in Ontario jails. Mr. Sapers, the former federal prisons ombudsman, was hired by the province last fall after Mr. Capay's plight became public.

Along with the decrepit 89-year-old Thunder Bay jail, Ontario will replace a second troubled institution in Ottawa, introduce reform legislation that will properly define the use of segregation, and create stronger independent oversight of the prison system. The corrections ministry will also explore the possibility of transferring its health-care services to the health ministry.

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Read more: Ontario prison adviser details plan to end segregation

The announcements are evidence that Queen's Park is serious about fixing its near-criminal mismanagement of solitary confinement. But the true test of its determination will be in the reform legislation, promised for this fall.

To be credible and effective, the reform must include Mr. Sapers' recommendations that there be a hard cap of 15 continuous days in solitary, and that no inmate be subjected to more than 60 days total in a year without the consent of the corrections minister.

As well, solitary confinement can't be a stand-in for protective custody or justified by the need for medical observation. And it must be banned for pregnant woman and new mothers, and for inmates who are suicidal, self-harming or suffering from a serious mental illness.

Implementing Mr. Sapers' recommendations will cost money. Prisons that don't have adequate facilities to house an inmate in protective custody differently from one in disciplinary segregation will need to be modernized. Providing proper care for inmates with severe mental health issues will also prove onerous, once the option of locking them away in a tiny cell is off the table.

But fixing this issue is vital. What self-respecting country puts pregnant women and the mentally ill in solitary? Mr. Capay's maltreatment was odious, but it was just one of the worst examples. Now it appears that his case will lead to reform. One can only hope he will get to watch when the old Thunder Bay jail faces the wrecking ball.

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