Solitary confinement

Reeling In The Years – The Revised European Prison Rules

You distinctly know you are getting on in years when you look around you and notice that the European Prison Rules have been revised – once again.

Working for a Geneva-based NGO at the time, this writer was involved in the drafting of a short submission during the last revision process of the European Prison Rules circa 2005. A quick blink of an eye later and we find ourselves a whole decade-and-half further down the train tracks of life.

All of which is a very convoluted way of saying that this timely and thorough update of the European Prison Rules is unquestionably a very welcome development.

After all, it took the UN over 60 years to revise (from 2010 – 2015) what are now known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, towards the end of which the 1955 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were clearly showing their age. Thus, the many positives of our regional human rights systems resonate again, more so in Europe perhaps.

Guard Tower – Thomas (2017).

The updated European Prison Rules were announced to the world on 1 July 2020 in a press release titled Revised European Prison Rules: new guidance to prison services on humane treatment of inmates, which stated:

“The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has adopted a Recommendation which updates the 2006 European Prison Rules. The rules, which contain the key legal standards and principles related to prison management, staff and treatment of detainees and are a global reference in this field, guide the 47 Council of Europe member states in their legislation, policies and practices.

The revision concerns the rules on the record keeping of information about inmates and the management of their files, the treatment of women prisoners, foreign nationals, as well as the use of special high security or safety measures such as the separation of prisoners from other inmates, solitary confinement, instruments of restraint, the need to ensure adequate levels in prison staff, inspection and independent monitoring.”

As noted above, for instance, the updated version of the Rules now regulate in considerably greater detail the use of solitary confinement. Canada, please take note.

By dint of this revision, on the issue of solitary confinement the 2006 European Prison Rules have been elaborated from one lonely line, as follows:

60.5 Solitary confinement shall be imposed as a punishment only in exceptional cases and for a specified period of time, which shall be as short as possible.

Solitary – DieselDemon (2010).

… to a veritable parable in the 2020 version of the Rules, as follows:

60.6. a Solitary confinement, that is the confinement of a prisoner for more than 22 hours a day without meaningful human contact, shall never be imposed on children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers or parents with infants in prison.

60.6. b The decision on solitary confinement shall take into account the current state of health of the prisoner concerned. Solitary confinement shall not be imposed on prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their condition would be exacerbated by it. Where solitary confinement has been imposed, its execution shall be terminated or suspended if the prisoner’s mental or physical condition has deteriorated. 

60.6. c Solitary confinement shall not be imposed as a disciplinary punishment, other than in exceptional cases and then for a specified period, which shall be as short as possible and shall never amount to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

60.6. d The maximum period for which solitary confinement may be imposed shall be set in national law. 

60.6. e Where a punishment of solitary confinement is imposed for a new disciplinary offence on a prisoner who has already spent the maximum period in solitary confinement, such a punishment shall not be implemented without first allowing the prisoner to recover from the adverse effects of the previous period of solitary confinement.

60.6. f Prisoners who are in solitary confinement shall be visited daily, including by the director of the prison or by a member of staff acting on behalf of the director of the prison.

Similarly, on the question of independent oversight of places of detention the 2006 European Prison Rules have been transformed from the following two, somewhat pedestrian lines:

93.1 The conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners shall be monitored by an independent body or bodies whose findings shall be made public.

93.2 Such independent monitoring body or bodies shall be encouraged to cooperate with those international agencies that are legally entitled to visit prisons.

Night Lighthouse – Mark Vegas (2007).

… to the following distinctly more descriptive and regulated version in the 2020 revised Rules:

93.1 To ensure that the conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners meet the requirements of national and international law and the provisions of these rules, and that the rights and dignity of prisoners are upheld at all times, prisons shall be monitored by a designated independent body or bodies, whose findings shall be made public.

93.2 Such independent monitoring bodies shall be guaranteed:

a. access to all prisons and parts of prisons, and to prison records, including those relating to requests and complaints, and information on conditions of detention and prisoner treatment, that they require to carry out their monitoring activities;

b. the choice of which prisons to visit, including by making unannounced visits at their own initiative, and which prisoners to interview; and

c. the freedom to conduct private and fully confidential interviews with prisoners and prison staff.

93.3 No prisoner, member of the prison staff or any other person, shall be subject to any sanction for providing information to an independent monitoring body.

93.4 Independent monitoring bodies shall be encouraged to co-operate with those international agencies that are legally entitled to visit prisons.

93.5 Independent monitoring bodies shall have the authority to make recommendations to the prison administration and other competent bodies.

93.6 The national authorities or prison administration shall inform these bodies, within a reasonable time, on the action being taken in respect of such recommendations.

93.7 Monitoring reports and the responses thereto shall be made public.

Strasbourg’s finest legal draftsmen and draftswomen have clearly been doing their homework: OPCAT Articles 19 to 23 anyone?

Which is a timely reminder that Global Affairs Canada have yet to respond to the Canada OPCAT Project’s Access to Information & Privacy Request from December 2019 on OPCAT consultation with civil society, despite the passing of more than six months.

If some Canadian readers may be scratching their collective heads wondering what on earth a Council of Europe soft-law instrument has to do with Canada then the Canada OPCAT Project brings this breaking development to you as yet another international best practice example of how deprivation of liberty might be better managed – whether it be solitary confinement, independent monitoring or any number of other important issues – in Canada, or anywhere for that matter.

International human rights standards are set in order to bring us all up, not down, even though they do not necessarily make you feel any younger.


Read the 2020 updated European Prison Rules in English and French.

Read the press release Revised European Prison Rules: new guidance to prison services on humane treatment of inmates or Règles pénitentiaires européennes révisées : nouvelles orientations destinées aux services pénitentiaires sur la prise en charge humaine des détenus.

Find out more about the Nelson Mandela Rules and see UNODC’s information placards.

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Prisons, Solitary confinement, 0 comments

Paving the Way for OPCAT in Australia: A Model for Canada?

Children and young people in Victorian prisons and youth justice systems are being damaged rather than rehabilitated through excessive use of isolation and separation, the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has concluded in a new report.

During the institution’s inspections of three Victorian facilities for young offenders earlier in 2019, the Victorian Ombudsman found practices that were incompatible with domestic and international human rights law. Her critical findings on the use of solitary confinement in the three facilities are presented in the following video presentation.

The thematic focus of the Victorian Ombudsman report is highly relevant to the Canadian context at a time when domestic oversight bodies have expressed increasing concern about similar isolationary practices relating to young offenders in several provinces. Just this past week the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta issued a critical report on such questionable practices in the province.

This important thematic focus aside, it was also highly significant for Canadian actors that the Victorian Ombudsman conducted her inspection against the rigorous standards of the OPCAT and thus with the requirements of the OPCAT clearly in mind.

Hot off the presses – the new Victorian Ombudsman OPCAT inspired report.

What is more, the aforementioned investigation and related report are the second occasion on which the institution has assumed an OPCAT approach to a detention monitoring inquiry without being formally designated as an NPM. Could Canadian detention monitors adopt a similar model? There is no reason why not.

Regular visitors to these pages will recall that Australia ratified the OPCAT in December 2017, albeit postponing the domestic implementation of the instrument for three-years, as permitted under OPCAT Article 24. Currently discussions are on-going as regards to the composition of the country’s future NPM, as explored in multiple past academic articles highlighted on the Canada OPCAT Project website.

Nonetheless, the Victorian Ombudsman has proactively grasped the challenge of conducting monitoring visits in light of new OPCAT conditions. Regrettably, certain Ombudsperson-like institutions designated as NPMs have adopted a ‘business as usual’ approach to their preventive work, treating their existing organizational structure and complaints-handling focus as being virtually synonymous with their OPCAT focused responsibilities and activities. This unfortunate reality was highlighted in a Canada OPCAT Project paper from earlier this year.

In stark contrast, the Victorian Ombudsman has seemingly reflected long and hard on what is required to be an effective NPM. The 50-or-so-page first part of this impressive report is devoted to this singular challenge, suitably titled ‘Implementing OPCAT in Victoria’. In doing so, it examines the key NPM principles as well as the different centralized (single entity NPMs) and de-centralized (multi-entity NPMs) structures which could feasibly be adopted in the state of Victoria.

In this analysis the report draws on NPM country examples from elsewhere, including Norway, Georgia, Denmark, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, highlighting the national processes leading to NPM designation, the legislative footings of the respective mechanisms as well as, crucially, their resourcing. Canadian readers perhaps less familiar with other national NPM designation processes may find this section of the Victorian Ombudsman report especially illuminating.

The same section of the report also examines in greater detail which NPM arrangement might be implemented in the state of Victoria, employing a ‘pro and con’ tick-box analysis of each model, as depicted below.

The report then explores how a centralized and de-centralized NPM model might look in practice, particularly in view of the six existing monitoring bodies in the state of Victoria. Various recommendations are made in this connection, including that:

Under a ‘unified’ model, and to avoid unnecessary duplication, a single independent body should be designated NPM for Victoria, to operate with a legislatively mandated Advisory Group as described in the following paragraphs. The NPM mandate should be distinct from existing functions, fully comply with the principles and requirements of OPCAT, and be enshrined in legislation.” [§269]

The shape and structure of the legislatively mandated Advisory Group is outlined in the report. Taking into account the length, frequency and number of potential inspections of the future mechanism the study presents a consideration of the size and cost of the Ombudsman’s vision of an NPM for Victoria. Impressively, highly detailed charts are presented of the costs associated with visiting different categories of detention facilities in the state, including prisons, police station, mental health centres, and child and youth facilities. In this regard the report concludes as follows:

An NPM conducting regular inspection of all primary places of detention in Victoria should comprise approximately 12 Full Time Equivalent staff and have an operating budget of approximately $2.5 million.

There are further efficiencies in designating a single NPM, as the inspection function can be subject to a single budget bid taking into account the full range of work required, and the NPM can provide resources to other agencies as necessary within the overall allocation.” [§304-305]

The remainder of the report titled Inspection Report consists of several sections, including a discussion on the rationale for looking at the topic of solitary detention of young persons and the methodology employed by the mechanism. It is notable that in the outset of part 2 of the report the Victorian Ombudsman emphasizes the key, sometimes forgotten point (in bold below):

Following her 2017 report about OPCAT, the Ombudsman decided to conduct a second own motion investigation, in light of her investigative human rights function and to further contribute to discussions about OPCAT’s implementation in Victoria.

In deciding to conduct this investigation, the Ombudsman noted the ratification of OPCAT is an important symbol of Australia’s commitment to human rights and community safety, and its implementation in Victoria is equally important in ensuring that commitment is not merely symbolic.” [§307-308]

In terms of the OPCAT-inspired monitoring methodology of the thematic investigation into solitary confinement, a so-called OPCAT Advisory Group was established, comprising 14 representatives of various Victorian oversight bodies and civil society organizations. In advance of the visits to the three youth detention facilities pre-inspection training was given and various inspection tools were developed. In some detail the report outlines the methodology of the visits to the different facilities.

The remaining chapters of the report detail the inspections of the detention facilities under scrutiny, namely Port Phillip Prison, Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct and the Secure Welfare Services at Ascot Vale and Maribyrnong, concluding with some 27 related recommendations. Readers wishing to learn more about the detailed findings of the report should consult it directly or watch the video presentation of the report above.

As for Canada, there is no reason why a similar OPCAT-inspired approach could not be emulated by domestic detention monitoring bodies. This year already, several government arms-length oversight bodies have published thematic reports, highlighting various concerns about different places of detention. Despite the fact that OPCAT ratification by Canada appears a long way off and next to no consultation has to date taken place with Canadian civil society on possible implementation of the instrument, the same highly welcome OPCAT-inspired tack of the Victorian Ombudsman could be followed in the country.

Once again, we see that Australia has potentially much to offer Canada in terms of its overall approach to preparing the way for the implementation of the OPCAT in the country. Thus, a loud, resonating round of applause must be extended to the Victorian Ombudsman in pushing along the OPCAT process with this highly thoughtful, if not striking report.

Canadians – get ready (for OPCAT), set, go?


Read the Victorian Ombudsman report, OPCAT in Victoria: A thematic investigation of practices related to solitary confinement of children and young people.

Read the related press release.

Examine the Victorian Ombudsman’s first OPCAT inspired report on women in prison, Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: report and inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.

Learn more about how the OPCAT is being implemented in Australia and the related challenges.

Interested in OPCAT visuals? Watch other imaginative ways in which different oversight mechanisms are highlighting their work.

Posted by mp in Australia, NPMs, OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Solitary confinement, Young offenders

New Report – Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres

“The treatment of young people in custody should uphold their human rights, in alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The current use of OC spray and segregation contradict the intention of the UNCRC and other United Nations rules and conventions. The Advocate urges the Young Offender Branch to review its policies and practices to ensure they align with the goals of its legislation and support the human rights of the young people they serve.”

Excerpt from the Executive Summary of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta report, Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres (September 2019).

The new report by the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta examines the use of oleoresin capsicum spray (OC spray) in the province’s two young offender centres, since its deployment by correctional staff was liberalized through a Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General policy change in May 2016. Alberta is currently one of only four provinces in Canada which permits the use of OC spray in young offender centres. Since its liberalization in 2016, the Child and Youth Advocate has found that “…OC spray use has increased significantly and continues to rise.” [12]

Care In Custody September 2019

The Child and Youth Advocate also investigated the use of segregation in young offender centres in the same report, highlighting various concerns. As a case in point, the office underscored: “It is alarming that segregation occurs in Alberta’s young offender centres without legislation to provide guidance and ensure accountability, transparency, and fairness.” [18] More specifically, the report stated the following:

“Alberta needs to reduce and regulate segregation in young offender centres. While recent legal changes, if implemented, will significantly restrict segregation in federal adult prisons, no comparable safeguards exist for Alberta’s young people. This discrepancy must be addressed because young people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of segregation than adults; they require greater protection, not less. Alberta needs to strengthen policy, guidelines, and accountability measures to uphold the rights of young people in custody and to ensure that they receive the supports they need.” [24]

In the report the Child and Youth Advocate advances the following four recommendations:

1. OC spray should only be used in exceptional circumstances, if there is an imminent risk of serious physical harm to a young person or others.

2. The Young Offender Branch should review and update their policies and standards to reduce the number of hours a young person can be segregated, ensure that they receive appropriate programming and supports, and improve conditions within segregation.

3. The Young Offender Branch should develop an impartial complaints and review process for young people. An impartial multi-disciplinary committee that includes external stakeholders should hear complaints and reviews, and young people should have access to a supportive adult.

4. The Young Offender Branch should monitor and publicly report all incidents of OC spray use and segregation annually.

The detailed versions of these recommendations can be found in pages 29-31 of the report.

It is notable that the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta has not been the only detention oversight body to express such concerns. In March 2019 the Manitoba Ombudsman and Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth published the critical findings of a joint investigation into the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement in youth correctional facilities in the province, as highlighted on this website. Thus, the concerns of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta concerning the use of OC spray and segregation appear to extend beyond the borders of the province.


Read the full report, Care In Custody: A Special Report on OC Spray and Segregation in Alberta’s Young Offender Centres.

Find out more about the work of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Alberta.

Read the reports of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth and the Manitoba Ombudsman on the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray in youth detention.

Read the most recent ICPA External Prison Oversight Newsletter and its Focus on Solitary Confinement.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Places of detention, Solitary confinement, Young offenders

COPCAT Shorts – Indigenous Canada Featured in Global Prison Trends 2019

“Indigenous peoples are heavily overrepresented in prison populations – particularly in Australia, Canada and New Zealand – and this is a persistent and growing problem, especially for women.” (21)

“Women from Indigenous communities and ethnic minorities face significant disadvantages in the criminal justice system, due to the double discrimination of gender and race – which is usually coupled with poor socio-economic status and education. The rate of criminalisation and imprisonment of Indigenous women is particularly concerning in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.” (20)

“Nearly half of all youth who were in custody in Canada in 2016–17 were Indigenous, despite making up only eight per cent of the youth population.” (24)

Excerpts from Penal Reform International’s Global Prison Trends 2019.

Indigenous Canadians in PRI's report, Global Prison Trends

Global Prison Trends is Penal Reform International’s annual flagship publication series which identifies topical developments and challenges in criminal justice, and prison policy and practice at the global level. 

PRI sets out a raft of key recommendations in the report. These include:

  • States should closely monitor the representation of foreign nationals and people from ethnic and racial minority or Indigenous backgrounds in criminal justice systems. They should review sentencing policies or practices to determine if they are discriminatory, and develop specific measures to meet the rehabilitation and reintegration needs of these prisoners;
  • Countries that have not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture should do so. (42-42)

Global Prison Trends 2019 can be downloaded here in English.

Read the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) policy backgrounder, Indigenous Women in Solitary Confinement.

Explore NWAC’s factsheet on Prison Issues.

The ICPA’s March 2019 newsletter on solitary confinement can be read here.

Examine the ICPA’s focus on independent oversight of prisons in Canada.

Posted by mp in Indigenous people, Prisons, Solitary confinement

Making A Difference: Norway’s NPM

Have you ever wondered if NPMs are making a difference in practice? For many of us interested or otherwise engaged in torture prevention the above conundrum is a recurrent question. After all, if the sum total of any preventive work is at best negligible, or even worse, why waste the time and effort?

In its newly published 2018 Annual Report the Norwegian NPM takes a fresh look at this fundamentally important question, devoting a full chapter to gauging impact. Most positively, in four of its past five Annual Reports the NPM has retrospectively cast its eye over the year of activities to document effected change.

Even though Canada and Norway are quite different national contexts, not least in terms of size of geography and population, Norway’s industrious NPM has nonetheless advanced some illuminating insights into how one NPM is making a difference on the ground through its preventive work.

making a difference

As noted in these pages just a few months ago, Norway ratified the OPCAT in 2013 and designated the Parliamentary Ombudsman as the NPM. The NPM has been operating since 2014 and consists of an independent department within the Parliamentary Ombudsman, comprising a team of multi-disciplinary staff. Detailed information about the structure and operation of Norway’s NPM can be found in the 2018 Annual Report.

The Norwegian NPM has described in detail how it is making a difference in practice in chapter 5 of the 2018 report. In these pages it has sketched out the all-important process of follow-up to monitoring visits, as follows:

“After each visit, the NPM publishes a report describing its findings and making recommendations for preventing torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Much of the preventive work begins after the reports have been published.

We ask all places we visit to provide written feedback on how the recommendations have been followed up within three months of the visit report being available.

The feedback we received throughout the year indicates that the institutions generally followed up the recommendations in a thorough manner. The majority of places have implemented numerous measures that play an important role in reducing the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment …

Certain recommendations require limited effort to follow up, while others are more challenging. This means that the NPM’s follow-up can sometimes continue over a long period, and at other times be concluded relatively quickly.” (49)

The report highlights the measured impact of the Norwegian NPM’s activities vis-a-vis specific thematic areas. These include the following:

  • Documenting the use of force in detention;
  • Preventing the use of coercive measures;
  • Ensuring the right to information can be exercised in practice;
  • Facilitating the participation of detainees in decisions which impact on them;
  • Improving the material conditions of detention;
  • Enhancing injury reporting procedures;
  • And minimizing resort to solitary confinement, isolation and segregation.

It bears noting that in 2018 a sizeable number of these gains were made in child welfare, health care and immigration detention settings. In one instance a child welfare facility was even temporarily closed due to allegations of abusive use of force.

Making a difference

As in Canada, resort to solitary confinement, isolation and segregation by different detaining authorities, including in prisons and health care settings, has been a significant cause for concern for the Norwegian NPM. In late 2018 the NPM also published a separate thematic report on the use of segregation in mental health care institutions, a summary of which is available in English.

In conclusion, the 2018 Annual Report of the Norwegian Parliamentary Ombudsman offers Canadian (and other) readers a very welcome insight into how decisive change can be effected in a range of detention settings and, it should be stressed, over a relatively short period of time. For those persons on the receiving end of such change, the positive impact ought not to be underestimated.


Visit the English version of the Norwegian NPM’s website.

Listen to an interview with the Norwegian NPM Director, Helga Fastrup Ervik, and learn more about the activities of her institution.

Read the current and past Annual Reports of the Norwegian NPM.

Read the summary of the December 2018 report, Segregation in mental health care institutions – risk of inhuman treatment.

Posted by mp in Health care, Norway, NPMs, Places of detention, Prisons, Psychiatric detention, Solitary confinement

Critical Expert Focus on Solitary Confinement

With its focus on solitary confinement, the second newsletter of the ICPA Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights brings to the forefront an extremely topical human rights discussion in Canada.

The recent high-profile release from a provincial Ontario prison of Adam Capay, after spending some four-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, aptly illustrates how problematic this questionable human rights practice has become in the Canadian context.

As highlighted on this website in October 2018, the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) Network was launched during the organization’s 2018 Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec. The Canada OPCAT Project shortly thereafter featured the inaugural newsletter in an article with its focus on Canada, including on the OPCAT.

In the brand-new newsletter the focus has shifted to the issue of solitary confinement in prisons. The world-leading academic expert on solitary confinement, Sharon Shalev, opens the newsletter discussion, offering a critical assessment of its widespread use from the perspective of the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules. She concludes her contributing article as follows:

“The fact that solitary confinement has been with us since the early days of the prison must not blind us to its harms, nor to its limited utility in achieving much beyond physically containing the individual separately from others. For too long prison managers and administrators have resorted to its use simply because it was there … The Nelson Mandela Rules remind us that we need to reserve it as a tool of last resort, when all else has failed and when no lesser restrictive method can achieve the purpose of the isolation. And then it must only be used for a very short time, whilst respecting the prisoner’s basic rights and treating them with dignity and respect. They also remind us that if it looks and feels like solitary confinement, it probably is solitary confinement, no matter what it is called.”

Solitary confinement
Cell Number 5 by Allissa Richardson (2011).

The latter highlighted point rings especially true in the Canadian context at a time when Bill C-83 is being discussed, which – critics have argued – seeks to essentially re-frame the use of solitary confinement in the country without abolishing the practice.

The current ICPA Network newsletter offers a view from Canada in this same connection, penned by the Ontario Supreme Court judge, David P. Cole. In his article the writer advances an overview of recent legal challenges and key judicial decisions in relation to the use of solitary confinement. Beginning with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s 2016 challenges to the ‘administrative segregation’ regime employed by federal correctional authorities through to the 2019 Adam Capay decision of the Ontario Supreme Court, David P. Cole charts the various legal arguments against its use. In relation to the highly publicized Adam Capay case from January 2019 Judge Cole writes at some length, stating:

“By far the most shocking recent Ontario decision is the case of R. v. Capay 2019 ONSC 535, where a trial judge refused to allow a murder charge to proceed because of numerous constitutional violations made by provincial penal authorities resulting in a remanded accused spending 1,647 days in solitary confinement, most in a perpetually lit cell … During the prisoner’s first two months in solitary, the accused – who had admittedly killed another prisoner by stabbing him with a pen – was kept in extreme isolation, never receiving a psychiatric evaluation or basic attention from prisoner staff, who had been instructed not to “enter into discussions” with him. Local and regional prison authorities were required by Ministry policy to conduct regular reviews of the accused’s segregation status, all designed to ensure that solitary confinement does not last longer than necessary. No reviews at all were conducted during the first few months, and most of the rest were found by the trial judge “to have remained irregular and perfunctory”. The judge further found that the harshness and squalor of the conditions in solitary were important factors in leading to his conclusion that the exceptional remedy of “a stay” should be imposed.”

Solitary confinement
Solitary Confinement by garshna (2013).

The newsletter closes its focus on acute isolation at the other end of the Americas with Argentina. Francisco Mugnolo of the National Prison’s Procuracy Office dissects the findings of a 2014 study conducted by his institution into the practice in the country’s 35 federal prisons. In doing so, he describes the different forms assumed by solitary confinement in the country. Based on this investigation as well as other complementary studies, the writer concludes the article as follows:

“Over the past 10 years, the solitary confinement procedure in federal prisons has expanded and solitary confinement “functions” have been diversified. Thus, the deprivation of liberty involves a series of additional punitive measures that are seen only in terms of punishment. These include accommodation in confined spaces, isolation, permanent restriction of movement, measured and monitored time, delay in granting and violation of rights, subjection to arbitrary rules and regulations, ill-treatment, and physical and psychological prison violence for thousands of inmates at the federal level.”

Taken together, these three impressive contributions underscore the pressing need for reform in relation to the harmful global practice of solitary confinement.

In addition to the above three lead articles, newsletter no. 2 helpfully includes a bibliography of useful documents and resources on the topic under its Selected Academic Articles and New Publications sections.

Solitary confinement
View finder on solitary confinement door by Tulio Bertorini (2005).

The latter section of newsletter no. 2 is devoted to the featured country jurisdiction of Australia. Whereas newsletter no. 1 focused on Canada as a jurisdiction, the current publication takes in Australia, with a very strong slant on the OPCAT as well as other forms of oversight of deprivation of liberty in the country.

As a country which ratified the OPCAT in December 2017 and which is currently in the process of instituting an NPM, there are unquestionably various important lessons for the equivalent national OPCAT discussion in Canada. As such, this section of the Network newsletter will be discussed in detail in a separate, forthcoming Canada OPCAT Project article.    

In sum, however, the ICPA Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights has succeeded in producing another highly thought-provoking human rights read with a prison focus. Readers are encouraged to explore its 55-pages and perhaps even consider the merits of joining this expanding expert cluster, now boasting some 65 members from 20 countries. If the humanization of deprivation of liberty is a cause close to your heart, then this ICPA Network may well be for you.  


Read the current ICPA Network newsletter.

Read the follow-up post about the newsletter’s focus on OPCAT implementation in Australia.

Read ICPA Network newsletter No. 1.

Visit the Network’s webpage and see who is a member.

Make a request to join the Network by contacting Canadian Correctional Investigator, Ivan Zinger.

Visit Sharon Shalev’s Solitary Confinement resource website.

Read more about the UN Nelson Mandela Rules and see the related UNODC posters.

Read the new reports by the Manitoba Ombudsman and Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth on the findings of a joint investigation into the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement in youth correctional facilities in the province.  

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Prisons, Solitary confinement

Renewed Scrutiny of Youth Solitary Confinement & Pepper Spray Use

Detention-related practices have once again come under the domestic spotlight in Canada, as two more provincial oversight mechanisms have issued critical reports urging sweeping change.

Following a highly critical report of the New-Brunswick Ombud’s Office into serious allegations of ill-treatment of psychiatric patients at a facility in the province, the Manitoba Ombudsman and Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth have published the findings of a joint investigation into the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement in youth correctional facilities in the province.  

The conclusions of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth were especially critical of such practices, drawing heavily on international human rights instruments, including the Nelson Mandela Rules (who most appropriately adorns the cover of the said report).  

Solitary confinement

With each office examining the issues under scrutiny from the perspectives of their distinct mandates, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth underlined the key point in the Executive Summary of the report:

Youth do not come to the attention of the justice system because things are going well in their lives. The vast majority of youth in custody live with mental illness, cognitive disabilities, and childhood trauma. Indigenous youth are overrepresented in Manitoba’s youth justice system, a persistent legacy of colonization and residential schools.

One of the report’s overarching recommendations was that the institutional reliance on solitary confinement and pepper spray must end and investments must be made to improve mental health and other health-related supports during the period youth are being held in custody. Six key recommendations to flow from the investigation included the following:

  • A ban on solitary confinement for youth, which is consistent with the Nelson Mandela Rules, affirming the prohibition of solitary confinement for youth under 18 years old and for individuals with mental or physical disabilities;
  • Enhanced restrictions and better monitoring of the practice of segregation under 24 hours in a day;
  • Better record keeping and monitoring of segregation-related data in youth custody facilities;
  • A change in the regulations to reflect the changing practice already underway in custody facilities by banning the use of pepper spray on youth, except in situations of immediate risk to life;
  • The implementation of evidence-informed and culturally safe therapeutic behavioural management alternatives to solitary confinement and pepper spray in recognition of the profound trauma histories, cognitive disabilities, and mental illnesses that youth in custody are living with;
  • And finally, enhanced evidence-informed health care programming for youth with mental illnesses or cognitive vulnerabilities.

The report’s concluding paragraph underscores the key point that, while the data about institutional recourse to solitary confinement and pepper spray is unquestionably at its most stark in the province, the underlying challenges are not unique to Manitoba.

The findings of the Manitoba Ombudsman, while not identical to the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, were similar with a keen focus on the compliance of the detaining authorities with existing legislation, regulations, policies, and procedures and whether they were being appropriately followed by corrections staff. On the use of pepper spray the Manitoba Ombudsman’s report makes 13 highly detailed operationally-focused recommendations, while vis-à-vis the use of segregation 18 recommendations were advanced.

Solitary confinement

The report concludes by noting:

Manitoba Justice accepted our findings and recommendations about pepper spray and segregation use. Manitoba Justice advised it has implemented the recommendations relating to pepper spray, and expects to implement the recommendations relating to segregation by March 1, 2019.

In view of the recent highly critical media coverage of the prolonged use of solitary confinement in Canadian provincial prisons and the resulting violations of fundamental Charter rights, the two reports arrive at a very timely moment, pointing to the acute importance of external oversight of deprivation of liberty settings in Canada.


Read the full report of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.

You can follow the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth on Twitter.

Explore the detailed findings of the Manitoba Ombudsman on the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray in youth detention.

Follow the Manitoba Ombudsman on Facebook.

Find other resources on solitary confinement and the use of force under Other Resources.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Solitary confinement, Use of force