Canadian court ruling confirms solitary confinement is a ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment

28th Mar 2019

A Canadian court ruling this week which will allow compensation to be paid to prisoners who were placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time could have ramifications for the Australian prison system, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

The ruling, as reported in The Globe and Mail, orders the Correction Service to pay $20 million for breaching the country’s human rights charter and, in another phase of the case, compensation for individual members of the class will be addressed. Class action members will be able to provide personal medical and prison records to argue for damages.

“This decision is applicable to Australia. Prisons in every Australian jurisdiction use solitary confinement to punish prisoners with mental illness,” said ALA criminal justice spokesperson, Mr Greg Barns.  “We know that solitary confinement can cause or exacerbate an array of mental-health conditions like self-harm, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and paranoia.

“365 days a year locking prisoners in their cells for 20-23 hours a day is routine across Australia.  Sometimes this means prisoners are not getting their prescribed medications, particularly mental health drugs. It is only a matter of time before there is similar litigation in Australia to hold prison services, public and private, to account for their abuse.

“We have frequently argued that solitary confinement is ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment and breaches Australia’s international human rights obligations and this decision confirms our view. 

“There is a great deal of medical research on the psychological effects of prolonged confinement in a small enclosed space.”

The use of solitary confinement as a punishment may breach the United Nations regulations on the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955) and the Convention against Torture and Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Tags: Human rights Criminal justice Greg Barns