Alberta Judge Rules That Keeping Inmates In Solitary Confinement Is Not Reasonable
Further pressure has been added to Canada’s prison agency to change its policy on solitary confinement.
In a recent decision, an Alberta judge released three inmates from segregation cells, concluding that prison authorities ignored factors surrounding procedural fairness, aboriginal identity and mental health history before placing them in isolation. On July 28, 2016, staff at the maximum security Edmonton Institution placed Matthew Hamm, Shawn Keepness and Taylor Tobin in solitary confinement after a confidential informant told the staff that the individuals planned to assault a group of prison guards.
When individuals are placed in solitary confinement, staff are legally obliged to give reasons with detailed explanations behind their decision. The inmates were denied procedural fairness and not given the right to counsel, therefore, the inmates, working without lawyers filed an application of habeas corpus. This application led to a judicial review of the decision.
A habeas corpus is a medieval writ stating “no man shall be arrested or imprisoned except by lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land”. Today this writ allows for a judicial review of prison actions that further erode an inmate’s residual liberties. Before Mr. Hamm was able to exercise his rights and argue his transfer before a judge, he was sent to solitary confinement.
Justice Joanne Veit of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench states:
“Given the basis on which the inmates were sent to solitary confinement, and the individual mental health and aboriginal circumstances of each inmate, the decisions to send each of them to solitary confinement is not reasonable”.
The judge agreed with the argument of the inmates, stating that “upon reviewing all the information that the Correctional Service withheld from the inmates… In the totality of the evidence on this application, I am unable to conclude that the institution had reliable and credible information that these applicants were planning a serious assault on three identified guards”.
In further support of the inmates, she noted that the institution had never laid charges, criminal or institutional, for their alleged conspiracy of beating the jail guards.
Justice Veit, found it concerning that the reasons given by the correctional officer’s decisions did not address any aboriginal or mental health issues. These factors should have been given considerable weight and were not even mentioned. It is important to note that Mr. Hamm suffered from bi-polar disorder and both Mr. Keepness and Mr. Tobin are aboriginal.
Hopefully this decision will shed light on solitary confinement and inmate rights in Ontario. There is no doubt that prison reform must take place. Prisons are underfunded and both inmates and prison guards suffer from the consequences of poor policy and underfunding.