With federal lawmakers pushing to curtail solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, some are worried that the move will lead prisoners to “double-bunk” in cells meant for one person.
After a judge ruled last year that indefinite solitary confinement was unconstitutional, the federal government tabled Bill C-83, which was meant to end segregation in Canadian prisons.
Although some have argued that the bill does not end solitary confinement but simply replaces the term with “structured intervention units,” long-term segregation of inmates is under scrutiny across the country.
At the end of March, Ontario’s court of appeal ruled that a prisoner could not be held in isolation for more than 15 days in a row.
Last week, Liberal MP Nathalie Des Rosiers, who represents Ottawa-Vanier, also presented her own private member’s bill to end prolonged solitary confinement, calling for a 60-day cap per year for prisoners to be held in isolation.
Although some prisoner advocates say this is a step in the right direction for prisoners’ rights, others worry if prisons will have the ability to properly house inmates who were kept apart for their safety and the safety of others.
Last week, an inmate at Bath Institution wrote a letter to Global News outlining his concerns regarding double-bunking.
“Dismaying and disappointing, that double-bunking is still considered a viable option when single cell occupancy is the internationally recognized accommodations standards in corrections, a standard to which CSC endorses as the ‘the most desirable and appropriate method of housing offenders,” George Fraser wrote. Fraser is currently serving a life sentence for the second-degree murder of his estranged wife.
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He was concerned that the elimination of segregation could lead to a dangerous environment for people paired in cells.
Not only is double-bunking a concern for prisoner safety, Dave McDonald, a former correctional officer who spent 36 years behind the walls of a maximum security prison in Kingston, Ont., says it puts officers at risk.
McDonald says double-bunking of inmates caused serious strife between those who had to share a cell — incidents that put correctional officers in harm’s way.
“We had murders, we had assaults,” said McDonald, while reminiscing about incidents between inmates in double-bunked cells.
He also said some inmates used having another person in the cell to manipulate or intimidate correctional officers.
“One of the inmates would roll to the back of the bunk so you can’t see them, because it’s so dark in the cell, and the other inmate would hide behind the door. So you have to pop the door — it’s a game they play.”
According to Correctional Service Canada, double-bunking is a temporary fix when there is an inmate population problem.
“We have a process in place for the people that we are double-bunking, so the safety of the staff and offenders is paramount,” said Wayne Buller, acting regional communications administrator for Correctional Services Canada.
Nevertheless, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says the federal agency’s policy sometimes misses the mark when it comes to double-bunking.
“Say you have a large individual on the top bunk that has a heart attack or something. It makes it an issue for our officers to perform CPR on the person on the top bunk,” says Rob Finucan, union representative.
A study released in October by the Correctional Service of Canada found the number of double-bunked inmates has dropped by 2,300 since 2012.
But McDonald says that if more inmates are moved from segregated cells to normal ones, the only solution other than double-bunking will be to build more prisons.
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