Solitary confinement. It’s a term most of us are pretty familiar with. Yet due to its normalization via popular culture, the brutal and inhuman nature of this practice has been somewhat dulled. Lest we forget, solitary confinement (referred to as segregation in Canada) is the single most severe punishment an inmate can receive, with the exception of the death penalty. It involves complete isolation from the world for 23 hours a day. In theory, it should thus be a last resort. But in reality, it’s a common practice.

As reported by Vice:

While rules and regulations around segregation can differ between federal and provincial corrections, some experts say that administrative segregation is being deliberately overused and has actually become the go-to choice because it’s easier to get away with […] It’s much easier to just put somebody in administrative segregation (isolation) than it is to go through the charging and the disciplinary process with punitive segregation.”

The United Nations considers segregation placements longer than 15 days to be cruel and inhuman punishment. Yet in a report by The Globe and Mail, of all inmates released from segregation in the 2015-16 fiscal year, nearly 250 had spent over 120 days in isolation. That’s over 1/3 of a year! And those figures are only for inmates serving time in federal prison. The numbers for provincial jails are even more staggering.

As reported by the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

The extensive use of administrative segregation strongly suggests that segregation is not being used as a last resort, but rather, as a routine management strategy across Ontario’s correctional facilities  […] It cannot be acceptable for the most restrictive and depriving form of incarceration legally administered in Canada—one which is otherwise imposed as a punishment—to be the default approach in situations where prisoners are sick or in need of protection.”

To be fair, correctional watchdogs have reported sharp declines in the use of solitary confinement as a whole in Canada. It’s been noted that the number of admissions to segregation dropped last year, and the trend has continued onto 2017. The average length of stay in solitary is down, from an average of 44 days in 2007-08 to 26 days in 2015-16. Baby steps, I suppose.

Think you could handle solitary confinement? Think you could spend 23 hours a day in a 6×9 cell for days, weeks, maybe months? See for yourself. The Guardian’s virtual reality experience places you right inside a U.S solitary confinement prison cell:


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