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A segregation cell of Kingston Penitentiary is shown in Kingston, Ontario on Wednesday October 2, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

If your spouse or child or neighbour suddenly started carving up their arms with sharp objects, would you be inclined to lock them in a small room for a week? As a solution, it clearly leaves something to be desired.

But in the alternative universe of our prison system, where there's almost no problem that can't be wished away into what's called administrative segregation, self-harm leads all too logically to solitary confinement.

So it turned out for Christopher Trotchie, a young B.C. man who suffers from mental-health issues. He has a history of cutting himself and has spent much of his adolescent and adult life in detention.

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Mr. Trotchie is party to a lawsuit filed against the B.C. government this week that alleges unfairness in the disciplinary system of the province's Corrections service. While an inmate at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, Mr. Trotchie covered up the camera in his cell and began slashing his arms. This was deemed a punishable offence by a jail-staff adjudicator during an in-house hearing held the same day, and so Mr. Trotchie was dispatched to a week in solitary. Hands up if you believe that spending a long time alone, cut off from human contact, is likely to cure mental illness.

Solitary confinement is a dangerous and inappropriate punishment for mentally ill inmates. And it is especially hard to imagine a situation where a prisoner who has just finished slashing himself will benefit from the tough love of isolation and deprivation.

B.C.'s Investigations and Standards Office eventually overturned the jail's decision to punish Mr. Trotchie – stating in part that the hearing was held in a "procedurally unfair manner" – but by then he had already served his time in solitary. Instant punishment of a vulnerable inmate in a closed-off system, where the complainant is also the judge, offends the most basic ideas of justice.

But just as worrisome is the delayed absolution offered up by an oversight body that should have the capacity to react quickly. Knowing what we do about the dangers of tossing an inmate with mental-health issues into solitary, even a week of confinement is far too much. Some wrongs can't be undone after the fact.

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