The jury at a coroner’s inquest into the suicide of an inmate at Abbotsford’s Matsqui Institution has recommended that federal politicians consider legislation to cap the length of time that inmates can be held in segregation.
The five-person jury also recommended that the House of Commons consider legislation to prohibit the segregated custody of inmates with mental-health issues or histories of self harm.
This was among 25 recommendations made by the jury following an inquest held July 18 to 21 in Burnaby into the death of Christopher Robert Roy, 37.
Roy was being held in the segregation unit of Matsqui Institution on June 1, 2015, when he was found hanging from a ligature in his cell and was transported to Abbotsford Regional Hospital, where he died two days later.
At the time of this death, Roy had been serving a two-year sentence for a break-and-enter at a residence in Kelowna and breaches of his probation and bail conditions.
A press release issued by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) on the first day of the inquest stated that Roy had been in solitary confinement for two months at the time of his death.
He had been held in “administrative segregation,” where inmates may be isolated for prolonged and indefinite periods, without any kind of review or oversight, the press release stated.
“My son was not suicidal before he was placed in solitary confinement. He called us every day while he was in prison, but after five weeks in solitary, he stopped. And three weeks after that, he was dead,” said Roy’s father, Robert.
He called for an end to the “brutal and debilitating practice” of segregating inmates for prolonged periods of up to 23 hours a day.
Last year, the BCCLA and John Howard Society of Canada filed a lawsuit challenging the ongoing use of administrative segregation on the basis that it constitutes cruel and unusual treatment and violates human rights contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The trial is scheduled to begin in January 2017.
“Administrative segregation – the practice of isolating prisoners for weeks and months at a time, with no end in sight – has no place in Canadian prisons. It is incredibly damaging, it creates and exacerbates mental illness and is completely counterproductive to the goals of rehabilitation and reintegration,” said BCCLA lawyer Laura Track.
The jury at the inquest into Roy’s death also made several recommendations to Correctional Service Canada (CSC), including that:
– the frequency of cell checks be increased;
– segregation staff include a full-time psychiatric nurse;
– daily yard time for segregated inmates be increased;
– access to mental-health and substance-abuse services be improved for segregated inmates; and
– an inmate held in segregation for more than four days be provided with TVs, books and other distractions to aid in their mental health.
Read the full report on the inquest findings here.