Serious concerns about solitary confinement at Burnside jail raised after Supreme Court ruling

So far 31 inmates have tested positive at the Burnside jail (pictured) and 20 inmates have tested positive at the Nova Institution for Women. File/Global News

HALIFAX – A ruling by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court is questioning the legality of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day when they are not being disciplined or held under protective custody.

The matter came to light when two convicted prisoners serving federal time at the Atlantic Institution in Renous were transferred to the Burnside jail because they had matters in Nova Scotia courts.

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Dylan Gogan was transferred to the Dartmouth jail in November 2014 pending a trial scheduled for Dec. 21, 2015.

Dylan Roach was transferred to the Burnside facility in October pending a trial slated to commence on Jan. 21, 2016.

Both men represented themselves in a hearing last week in Halifax.

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The men are being kept in separate cells measuring about seven by nine feet containing a bed, toilet and stool. They are not permitted access to dayrooms or other common areas of the jail.

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The court noted that neither man is considered in need of protection or are being disciplined.

That’s in keeping with a Nova Scotia government policy that was brought in a year ago that requires jail guard to keep federal offenders out of open dayrooms in the jail, allowing only provincial offenders access to them.

In an affidavit filed with the court, Richard Verge, captain of the 5 West range area of the Burnside Jail where the two men are being held, testified overcrowding at the jail is being addressed by giving provincial offenders access to common areas.

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There are also concerns that contraband and drugs could be passed from provincial to federal prisoners in the common areas and enter the federal prison system.

But Judge Gerald Moir in a written decision released Wednesday said the men raise serious grounds about the legality of keeping them in solitary writing.

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“To lock a man alone in a cell for twenty-three hours a day is not merely to deprive him of the common room,” the decision read.

“It is to deprive him of social interaction, of the simplest personal amusements such as cards or television, of the most rudimentary activities that keep us sane.”

Moir called the decision to hold all federal prisoners in solitary in provincial jails arbitrary and unreasonable according to the reasons given by authorities at the Burnside jail.

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Moir said there is no evidence to suggest federal offenders on provincial remand are a greater safety or security risk. Prisoners like Roach are being penalized with solitary confinement for exercising their constitutional right to access a lawyer.

Judge Moir also questions why there is no appeal process or review of federal prisoners placed in solitary for reasons other than discipline or protection.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said it respects the Supreme Court decision related to federal inmates in provincial jails.

The statement goes on to say that currently there are no blanket restrictions being imposed on federal offenders at the Burnside Correctional Facility. Inmates are permitted to have visitors or being kept under lock down. They are also being allowed access to regular privileges.

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The Department of Justice says it is working with the Occupational Health and Safety Unit of the Department of Labour to address any safety concerns being raised by corrections staff.

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