Suggesting that segregation has no impact goes against most academic research

Dec 21, 2016 By Matthew Friedberg
"It's unbelievable" that someone could suggest that isolating inmates causes none of the health problems generally associated with segregation, says Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg.

“I completely disagree that there is no impact and I challenge anyone who says that to step into administrative segregation for a month to see whether they are impacted by it — if their psychological health is damaged,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Saying segregation has no effect is simply inconsistent with what I have seen in my law practice.”

Friedberg, a partner with Caramanna Friedberg LLP, weighs in on the issue as the Globe and Mail reports statements the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) made about solitary confinement and where it denied using the practice in its prisons.

“While the agency acknowledged that administrative segregation means isolating inmates for up to 23 hours a day, it argued that it does not meet the definition of solitary confinement because prisoners get daily visits from wardens, health-care personnel and other staff,” reports the newspaper.

The comments are part of a statement of defence that CSC filed in response to a lawsuit three inmates filed against the prison agency in October, claiming damages of $5.6 million.

“In August, a provincial court judge ruled that Matthew Hamm, Shawn Keepness and Taylor Tobin were unfairly placed in administrative segregation at Edmonton Institution for 43 days based on faulty evidence of an alleged plot to harm correctional officers,” reports the Globe.

The article notes the agency’s statements contradict most of the academic research on the health effects of prison isolation and also conflict with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statements about reforming the practice. “There is a definite a disconnect between what politicians are saying about this matter, and what their (public) servants in the Department of Justice are arguing in court,” said Avnish Nanda, the lawyer representing three men suing CSC.

Prisoner-rights advocates describe CSC’s argument as “preposterous," says the article.

“The claim that prisoners in administrative segregation are afforded meaningful human contact is not consistent with the experiences of [our] clients,” said Jen Metcalfe, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a legal clinic for inmates in British Columbia, in the Globe piece. “Our clients report that most interactions with staff and health-care providers are very brief and through the cell door, where there is no privacy.”

As a criminal defence lawyer who has spoken with clients who have felt the effects of spending time in solitary confinement, Friedberg agrees with Metcalfe.

“It’s inhumane. No inmate wants to go into segregation," he says. "To claim that segregation has no effect is simply unfair and goes against what we know the evidence to be in relation to this issue."