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Canada rights official urges end to solitary confinement

[JURIST] The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) [official website] recommended Monday that the Canadian correctional system put an end to solitary confinement [submission] in provincial jails. Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane [official profile] stressed [Toronto Star report] that such segregation practices disproportionately impact mentally ill inmates as well as minorities and women. Though Mandhane acknowledges that solitary confinement can not be automatically eliminated, she believes that it should be used only as a last resort. By keeping a strong position, Mandhane hopes to force provincial jails to adopt new treatment methods that more effectively address prisoners' mental health issues. The OHRC has presented several recommendations to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services [official website], including keeping a more sensitive staff, increasing the oversight required for segregation and health care decisions, allowing opportunities to challenge segregation and statistically analyzing the correctional system.

The legality of solitary confinement has also been an ongoing debate in the US, with many calling for comprehensive prison reform [JURIST podcast]. Last month US President Barack Obama announced a ban on the federal prison system's use of solitary confinement for juveniles [JURIST report]. In December New York officials announced a settlement agreement under which the state will overhaul its solitary confinement [JURIST report] practices and procedures. In September California agreed [JURIST report] to restrict use of solitary confinement based on a class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website]. Last March the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that Virginia could continue to automatically house death row inmates in solitary confinement. In June 2014 Colorado enacted a law [JURIST report] changing its traditional methods of solitary confinement by mandating psychiatric evaluations and therapy for inmates diagnosed with mental illness and qualifying for disciplinary intervention.

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