ICPA

Available at all Good Newsstands! The Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights Newsletter No. 3.

In anticipation of the International Corrections & Prisons Association’s (ICPA) 21st Annual Conference set to take place in Buenos Aires at the end of October 2019, the organization’s Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights has published its Newsletter No.3.

Launched in 2018, the Expert Network has, to date, unleashed on the human rights community a short series of highly informative newsletters covering issues as topical as the OPCAT and solitary confinement, while focusing on Canada and Australia as its country jurisdictions.

World Headlines (photographer unknown) – Britt Fuller (1941)

A short account of the establishment of the Expert Network and the key role played in its creation by the Canadian Correctional Investigator, Ivan Zinger, as well as an overview of its first two newsletters were featured on the Canada OPCAT Project website. Both newsletters are well worth a second, let alone a first read.

The current issue of the newsletter takes in the ICPA Annual Conference host-nation for 2019, Argentina, as its country focus, while the theme of the Annual Conference forms its topic of discussion, namely ‘Strengthening Correctional Cornerstones: Rights, Dignity, Safety and Support’.

For reasons of brevity, readers should click on the button below to directly consult the current issue. However, for this writer the highlights include its two articles throwing a spotlight on the OPCAT in Argentina (like Canada, another one of those tricky federal states) as well as Professor Rosemary Ricciardelli’s article on the on-going struggle to reform the overly frequent use of solitary confinement in Canada. The latter is very aptly titled ‘Reforming Segregation: Best Intentions within Complicated Realities’.

The ICRC Prison System Advisor, Paul Geurts, offers an interesting account of the organization’s activities aimed at supporting national prison services in developing internal prison inspection systems. The latter was also the theme of a fairly recent UNODC publication, as briefly highlighted in these pages.

Very kindly the Canada OPCAT Project even gets a name-check in the newsletter as a useful information source, which is particularly heartening. We remain humbly grateful, of course.

As for the ICPA’s 2019 Annual Conference in Buenos Aires, the Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights has two events planned this year, namely on the topics of ‘External Prison Oversight, Dignity and Human Rights’ and ‘Dignity, Human Rights and Solitary Confinement’. An array of leading Canadian human rights figures will present during these gatherings.

In addition, two working meetings of the Expert Network will be held, more information about which can be found in Ivan Zinger’s Welcome Message from the Chair in the current newsletter.

In a word, take a closer look – there is much to catch up on in Newsletter No.3!


Read newly published Expert Newsletter No.3.

Read Expert Network Newsletter No.1.

Read Expert Network Newsletter No.2.

Find out more about the establishment of the Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights.

Visit the ICPA 2019 Annual Conference website.

Read why the Canadian Correctional Investigator supports Canada’s ratification of the OPCAT.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Oversight bodies, Tools

OPCAT in a Land Down Under

If this writer could not resist the temptation of employing the much-loved Men At Work ‘Down Under’ song reference in this post’s title, then you too will hopefully not resist reading the current edition of the ICPA External Prison Oversight and Human Rights Network newsletter with its Australian OPCAT focus.

As featured in an earlier article, with a spotlight on the current OPCAT implementation process in Australia the newsletter has considerable relevance for the Canadian context with its lessons of good related practice. This fact rings especially true at a time when Canadian government authorities at all levels have apparently been discussing potential OPCAT implementation among themselves, albeit lamentably with practically no one else, not least civil society.

As a fellow federal state, the parallels between Australia and Canada are not insignificant. While Australia has 9 jurisdictions (one federal, six state and two territorial in scope) compared with Canada’s 14, the distinct challenges of implementing the OPCAT in a multi-jurisdictional state structure still have to be met.

Down Under
Maitland Gaol by OZinOH (2007).

Even though reservations have been expressed in these pages about Canada adopting a multi-body approach to OPCAT implementation (please see the Canada OPCAT Project discussion paper, Instituting an NPM in Canada), Australia appears to be forging ahead in this direction, emulating countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

Australia ratified the OPCAT in December 2017, postponing the obligation to institute an NPM by up to three years through a Declaration under OPCAT Article 24. As a result, the country has until January 2022 at the latest to put in place its NPM.

The current ICPA newsletter offers readers a deep dive into the OPCAT implementation process in Australia through the contributions of seven leading human rights academics and detention monitors. Professor Bronwyn Naylor of RMIT University in Melbourne kicks off the Australian OPCAT discussion, offering an informative sweep to date of the overall implementation process in the country. In doing so, she comments on the task of designating multiple bodies as the future NPM:

“The implementation process in Australia therefore involves identifying all relevant places of detention, and all existing monitoring bodies, and – probably most challenging – decisions at state, territory and federal level about whether and how existing bodies could take on the OPCAT monitoring role, and what might be needed to make them OPCAT compliant …

Some of the Australian monitoring bodies, such as the prisons inspectorates and Ombudsman offices, have some or most of the OPCAT characteristics. However across Australia there are both gaps in coverage, and overlapping powers. There are also inconsistencies across states and territories, with varying degrees of independence and effectiveness of monitoring bodies.”

While a similar auditing process took place in Canada in 2017-2018, relatively little information about it has been allowed to seep into the public domain.

Down Under
Ground Floor Maitland Prison by Bill Collison (2012).

In contrast, according to Professor Naylor, in Australia the process of identifying places of detention and establishing a baseline of the extent to which existing oversight bodies are currently OPCAT-compliant is being carried out by an arms-length government body designated to coordinate OPCAT implementation in the country, the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Unlike in Canada, this study is to be made public in an upcoming 2019 report.

Contemporaneously the Australian Human Rights Commission has been conducting a broad constituency consultation into the role of civil society in the implementation of the OPCAT as well as the later operation of the NPM (please visit the institution’s OPCAT Consultation Page). If Australia is willing and able to open up its OPCAT consultation process, Canada’s closed, locked-down process remains all the more perplexing.

In a nutshell, even though the Australian OPCAT consultation process has not been without certain criticism, it remains light years ahead of Canada in terms of its openness, transparency and inclusiveness. Professor Naylor’s article offers an excellent overview of this process up to the current point in time.

Steven Caruana, the Inspections and Research Officer at the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia, and himself no stranger to these Canada OPCAT Project pages, convincingly argues how the OPCAT is being used to strengthen existing oversight bodies in the country, highlighting various illuminating examples thereof. He writes:

“These next two years are crucial times for the advancement of correctional oversight in Australia. Effective and substantial compliance with the OPCAT, in the fitting words of the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Ed Santow, ‘…could be the single most positive development this decade in improving conditions in all Australian places of detention.’ State and Territory governments will need to turn their attention to the requirements of OPCAT. They will need to consider the most suitable existing agencies and what resourcing and legislative requirements will be necessary for them.

Equally important, Australian oversight agencies will need to proactively assess whether their mandate and methodologies are compatible with OPCAT.”  

Thus, OPCAT ratification is being used as a moment of introspection by the government authorities and certain existing oversight bodies, which is most encouraging.

Down Under
Light in the Darkness by Drew Douglas (2007).

In her contribution to the OPCAT discussion, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass extends the above analysis to her own institution, noting:

“When, in 2017, the Commonwealth Government announced that Australia would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), people might have assumed it would be business as usual in Victoria…

For those of us working in this area, however, it was clear that OPCAT would require change. It introduces more rigorous standards for local inspections of places of detention by National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs). By opening detention to United Nations scrutiny, it also demands much closer attention to international standards for the treatment of detainees.”

Citing several so-called pilot OPCAT investigations undertaken from 2017 onwards, the author brings to life Steven Caruana’s key point that the OPCAT can be harnessed to improve and enhance existing oversight activities on the part of detention monitoring bodies.

In a further illuminating article, Rebecca Minty and Holly Fredericksen of the Office of the Inspector of Correctional Services in the Australian Capital Territory, underscore how the OPCAT text was used to inspire the drafting of the statute which brought into life this oversight body in 2017:  

“The legislation to establish the ACT OICS was developed to reflect the requirements and expectations around the establishment of a national preventative mechanism under the OPCAT. This resulted in the creation of a preventative focused independent statutory authority with all the powers and guarantees required in OPCAT, for example, the right to access to any place of detention at any time, the power to speak with detainees and staff, and the right to access documents including registers. Furthermore, when conducting an examination and review, the ICS Act requires that the review team include those with expertise relevant to the subject matter being reviewed, and all reports from examinations and reviews must be publicly tabled in the Legislative Assembly.”

Once again, we see the positive influence of the OPCAT instrument as an international point of reference for best detention monitoring practice.

In other articles more operational accounts are offered of other existing Australian detention monitoring bodies, including the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services in New South Wales, South Australian Ombudsman Office, and the Chief Inspector of the Queensland Corrective Services. All of these bodies may feasibly play a future role as part of Australia’s NPM. 

Down Under
Port Arthur (Tasmania) by Andrea Schaffer (2010).

Some Final Thoughts

With less than three years to put in place an NPM, the Australian OPCAT implementation process appears to be moving steadily forward. More impressively still, Australian civil society has succeeded in establishing an informal OPCAT network to coordinate their respective activities, to closely shadow as well as to feed into the on-going OPCAT consultation process, to which several of the above contributors belong. While no analogue civil society network currently exists in the Canadian context (bar this creaking website), this might be another best practice to be drawn from the Antipodean colleagues.

Though the task of re-purposing a sizeable number of existing monitoring bodies as the future NPM should not be taken lightly, several such oversight bodies in Australia are clearly using the OPCAT as central point of reference against which to gauge and recalibrate their existing inspection activities. In itself, this process of reflection appears to have been an important outcome of the OPCAT implementation process, despite there being much work ahead in this respect.

Yet none of the above would have been possible without a reasonable degree of willingness on the part of the Australian authorities to open up the domestic OPCAT process to discussion – crucially with civil society. Gloomily, as previously stated, such openness and inclusiveness has been almost entirely lacking in Canada, despite international recommendations and advice to this end.

This impenetrability and opacity aside, the OPCAT discussion process Down Under remains an invaluable benchmark of how such a national discussion might be conducted in future in Canada. It goes without saying that we wish our impressive Australian colleagues the very best of luck with these crucially important torture-prevention endeavours.


The next installment of the ICPA Network newsletter is scheduled for September 2019 with the featured country jurisdiction of Argentina and the featured topic of “Strengthening our Correctional Cornerstones: Rights, Dignity, Safety and Support.” Persons interested in contributing an article should contact the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

Read the current ICPA Network newsletter.

Read an earlier article based on the current newsletter titled Critical Expert Focus on Solitary Confinement.

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.

Listen to Steven Caruana talk about the Australian OPCAT process on C3R radio.

Posted by mp in Australia, Implementation process, NPMs, OPCAT, Oversight bodies

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

COPCAT Shorts: Launch of ICPA Planning & Design Hub

The ICPA Planning and Design Hub strives to inspire, challenge and motivate architects, administrators and professionals from across the world to create more humane correctional facilities. The Hub includes projects, resources and discussion threads regarding exemplary practice in correctional planning and design. We believe that this website will be a valuable tool for all of you who are interested in the built environment. Thus far, projects and resources from several countries and various focus areas are posted.

Abstract from International Corrections & Prisons Association – ‘ICPA Launches a Planning and Design Hub’ at the following website.

Planning & Design Hub

Visit the ICPA Planning and Design Hub.

Lean more about the recent launch of the ICPA’s External Prison Oversight and Human Rights Network and read its first newsletter.

Read the related ICRC publication, Towards Humane Prisons: A Principled & Participatory Approach To Prisons Planning & Design.

Planning & Design

Posted by mp in Prisons, Publication, Tools

Spotlight on Canada in New Prison Oversight Newsletter

A welcome spotlight falls on Canada as the key focus of the very first newsletter of the ICPA’s Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights. Published this week to coincide with the launch of the expert network, this new publication examines the question of prison oversight in Canada, drawing on a wealth of practical human rights expertise.

As highlighted on this website just a few weeks’ ago, the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) Network will be launched during the organization’s 2018 Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec, the week beginning 22 October 2018.

ICPA NetworkFrom a Canadian perspective, this human rights initiative is especially interesting, as Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is the key figure behind the creation of the network.

Writing in an opening message to newsletter readers, Ivan Zinger has expressed the hope that the “… network will provide a unique platform to enable organizations involved in prison oversight to share information and exchange best practices and lessons learned.” Comprising at present some 28 expert members from 13 countries across the globe, the Network will in no time grow exponentially and take in many more experts, countries and continents.

The Network’s newsletter will initially be published three times a year and is aimed at providing an effective way to share and exchange information and best practices in prison oversight and human rights.

With an in-depth focus on Canada, the first issue offers an interesting compendium of articles on prison oversight mechanisms cast across its vast territory, including at the federal-level the Office of the Correctional Investigator, but also analogue mechanisms in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Yukon.

Launch Expert Network

In addition, Assistant Law Professor at Queen’s University, Lisa Kerr, offers an instructive Op Ed on the function of prison oversight bodies, while Howard Sapers presents a background piece in his capacity as Independent Advisor on the review of Ontario’s prison estate. The origins and objectives of the Canada OPCAT Project are also highlighted in a short article titled Shining a Spotlight on Canada.

The newsletter also has some very useful sections focusing on important new publications and relevant academic articles as well as a calendar of criminal justice-related events.

In his welcoming remarks Ivan Zinger has stressed: “The success of this network will be measured in part by the success of our newsletter. Therefore, I need your feedback and contributions so we can improve the newsletter and make it as insightful and relevant as possible.”

The next newsletter is set to focus on both a detention related theme (possibly solitary confinement) and a country jurisdiction. Readers interested in submitting articles or joining the network as experts, should contact Ivan Zinger via his office.

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, OPCAT

Launch of Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights

In just a few short weeks’ time a new, unique international expert network on prison oversight is set to see the light of day during this year’s ICPA Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec.

Launch Expert NetworkThe ICPA, as the International Corrections and Prisons Association is known to most readers, will  launch its Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this large-scale gathering of penal and criminal justice practitioners in Montreal the week beginning 22 October 2018.

This human rights initiative is especially interesting, as a key Canadian criminal justice actor is behind the enterprise. Federal Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is the main initiator of the network which will hold an inaugural panel discussion on Prison Oversight and Human Rights on the morning of 22 October.

During this session various guest speakers will address this important topic. From the United Kingdom Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisoners Peter Clarke will offer his insights into the importance of independent external oversight of closed custodial settings. Moreover, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons plays a key role in the operation and coordination of the UK’s multi-body National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT and is a highly respected prison oversight entity in its own right.

Peter Clarke will be joined in this discussion by Michael Horowitz, the US Inspector General of the US Department of Justice and compatriot, Michele Deitch, a Senior Lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Michele Deitch boasts an extremely strong academic as well as practical track-record in the domain of prison oversight, particularly in the US state of Texas.

Launch Expert Network

The key role played in Canada in this same connection by Ivan Zinger’s institution, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, will be familiar to many readers. This ombudsperson-type institution has also been a vocal Canadian proponent of the country’s ratification of the OPCAT, having urged the Government to do so in past Annual Reports.

In addition to the panel discussion, members of the fledgling prison oversight network will meet to discuss its internal organization and future activities.

The launch of the Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this year’s ICPA’s Annual Conference is without question a very welcome initiative and from this promising start bigger and better things are anticipated in the months ahead. Persons interested in its activities, or joining the network as an expert, should contact Ivan Zinger via his office.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Places of detention, Prisons