Bill tabled in Legislative Assembly for abolition of prolonged solitary confinement in BC

Solitary confinement has proven to be detrimental to inmates’ physical and mental health

The photo is of the outside of a Canadian prison. A basketball sits in front of a basketball hoop in a gravel field, surrounded by fencing. No people can be seen.
BC’s current rules have a 15-day limit on solitary confinement. PHOTO: Larry Far / Unsplash

By: Pranjali J Mann, News Writer

On June 1, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, Adam Olsen tabled a bill for the abolition of “prolonged solitary confinement in provincial correctional facilities.” According to the BC Green party’s media release, solitary confinement is “any confinement, seclusion, or segregation of individuals for more than 22 hours a day without meaningful human contact.”

This proposal to the Legislative Assemby in Victoria noted, “Solitary confinement of more than 15 days is considered torture” by the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatement of Prisoners. These are international principles which draw from the unjust prison system Nelson Mandela was subjected to. 

Following the UN’s rules, the BC NDP Government made an “amendment to the BC Correction Act Regulation in 2020 that introduced a 15-day limit on solitary confinement.” To get a greater understanding of this bill and what it entails, The Peak interviewed Ian Morrison, Convenor for the Campaign for the Abolition of Solitary Confinement.

Commending the bill proposal, Morrison noted it to be “a step in the right direction [ . . . ] In the issue of prison reform, BC just happens to be strongest. And it’s something that I think the British Columbians should be proud of.”

Morrison called upon other legislative members to support this bill because “it’s in accord with international principles and it’s a step towards the prisoner to become, on release, a productive citizen.” The Prison Policy Initiative has found extended periods of solitary confinement is detrimental to mental health, causing feeling of distress, social deprivation, exclusion. The Prison Policy Initiative is the result of an International Symposium on Solitary Confinement which focused on analyzing incarceration in the United States and around the world. They found that “since humans are naturally social beings, depriving people of the ability to socialize can cause ‘social pain.’” The briefing highlighted prolonged isolation increased risk of premature death, along with increased risk of developing specific psychiatric syndromes and psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. 

Morrison further emphasized this issue is in the “common interest in the safety of the community, from people who are in correctional systems to come out, able to respond as healthy, contributing citizens, as opposed to recidivism, which creates a kind of a cycle of bad things.” 

Additionally, Morrison noted solitary confinement often targets racialized individuals, specifically Indigenous peoples.  He said, “With respect to Indigenous peoples, it is not the prison system that causes them to be over represented. It is the justice system.” He revealed a similar disproportionation was seen in the case of people of color. 

The BC government reported that “Indigenous people comprise nearly 6% of BC’s adult population, and yet they represent 35% of the people in adult custody.”  

“The issue needs to be better understood. I mean, it’s an important societal issue, the courts understand it. But, some politicians are just not tuned in to it. And politicians are often responsive to public opinion,” said Morrison.

Morrison stated the issue is very central and requires more public attention. He said that to most people, inmates “are invisible. They’re not part of your consciousness.”