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Ashley Smith is shown in an undated handout photo released at the inquest into her prison cell death, in Toronto, Wednesday, Feb.20, 2013. Coralee Smith, Ashley's mother, was set to testify at the inquest on Wednesday.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Poring over the outcomes from a given social policy is often an ambiguous business, subject to interpretation and argument. Not so with solitary confinement.

There is incontrovertible and voluminous evidence documenting the devastating psychological toll solitary takes on prisoners subjected to it for lengthy stretches. Correctional Service Canada knows this, so why is it so hard for it to do something meaningful about what it euphemistically calls "administrative segregation"?

Enlightened corrections officials all over the world, including the detention-happy United States, are increasingly turning away from the practice. Canada is starting to look like an outlier.

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This week, The Globe revealed that CSC recently made minor administrative adjustments to its solitary confinement practices, particularly when it comes to inmates with mental-health issues. It's a partial and long overdue response to a coroner's inquiry into the prison death of a young woman named Ashley Smith, which concluded two years ago.

The changes were quietly enacted in October, days before Canadians went to the polls in the federal election. Any change to the status quo is at least an improvement, but CSC's moves look like little more than tinkering.

A growing body of international scholarship on solitary all points in the same direction: It must be used sparingly, and only within a broader treatment and program structure. If CSC has a problem with the academic consensus, perhaps it might consider the evidence here at home. They could start with the 2010 suicide death of Edward Snowshoe, a case depressingly similar to that of Ms. Smith. Mr. Snowshoe came into prison a troubled man, and the more troubled he was, the more he was subjected to solitary confinement. The more solitary he endured, the more mentally unwell he became.

Yes, solitary confinement can be part of the prison system's last-resort options to deal with violent offenders, in carefully limited circumstances and for short periods of time. But as a Nova Scotia judge recently wrote, long-term solitary strips inmates "of the most rudimentary activities that keep us sane." Canada has started down the path of reform. It needs to keep going.

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