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Editorials Using solitary for sick inmates hits new low for Canadian prisons

The general inmate facility at the Toronto South Detention Centre in Toronto, where the medical facilities still haven’t opened.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

We already knew that solitary confinement was being cruelly misused by Canadian prison officials who recklessly incarcerate mentally-ill inmates in tiny cells that exacerbate the inmates' symptoms. Now we are learning that inmates in a provincial facility in Toronto are being sent to solitary simply because they are under the weather.

You read that right. Ontario's ombudsman, André Marin, says he will launch an investigation into the Toronto South Detention Centre unless officials there stop using segregation cells to house inmates who are injured or sick. Mr. Marin's statement followed a report that the new jail, which opened 11 months ago, still hasn't put its medical facilities into service. As a consequence, the jail has been using cells that should only be resorted to in extreme circumstances to house prisoners who belong in a hospital bed or, worse, in a mental-health facility.

Mr. Marin says he has received 144 complaints about health services and the use of solitary since the new jail opened. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services says the province hasn't been able to hire the staff it needs to open the infirmary and mental health unit, and that inmates are only being held in "medical segregation" to "ensure a private location for them to recover."

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Once again, solitary confinement is being used in an inappropriate way in a Canadian prison. We saw where that leads with the deaths of Ashley Smith and Edward Snowshoe. We have since learned that the federal government is indifferent to the issue: Correctional Service Canada says it will not change its use of solitary in spite of those tragedies.

And now a provincial jail, whose inmates include people who are awaiting trial and are therefore presumed innocent, is casually using segregation to paper over its failure to staff its infirmary and mental-health unit. It looks like another case of Canadian prison officials displaying a casual indifference to the health and safety of inmates.

Other countries, including the United States, are phasing out solitary or severely limiting its use because it is demonstrably counter-productive and inhuman. In Canada, meanwhile, we're sending people to solitary for the crime of needing medical attention.

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