Edward Nolan Day – 40th Anniversary Aug. 10

  July 28, 2014 

 John Howard Society – Backgrounder for Prisoner’s Justice Day – Introduction by Catherine Latimer, Executive Director, JHSC

This Prisoners’ Justice Day marks 40 years since Edward Nolan committed suicide in a segregation cell in Millhaven.  Given the heightened public interest and lack of progress in implementing key recommendations of the Ashley Smith Coroners Jury report, the Correctional Investigator, and the United Nations to limit Canada’s use of solitary confinement, particularly for mentally ill prisoners, I thought this upcoming prisoners’ justice day would be an occasion to focus attention on these important issues.  I have been contacting the media.

I note that August 10th this year is on a Sunday and thought some might be encouraged to raise these issues in their church sermons.  Please find attached a backgrounder that you might wish to share with Ministers in your area. .

Prisoners’ Justice Day, Aug 10th:  40 Years Since Edward Nolan Committed Suicide in Solitary Confinement in Millhaven Penitentiary

Ever since the suicide of Edward Nolan in a segregation cell in Millhaven Penitentiary on August 10th, 1974, Canadians have held a vigil to mark all prisoner deaths.   Many prisoners fast and decline to work on that day, and many Canadians outside of prisons pray, meet, and call for a more humane correctional system.

Since Mr. Nolan’s death, awareness of the link between solitary confinement, deteriorating mental health, and suicide in prisons has increased, but little has improved in 40 years.  Recently, the segregation cells at Millhaven where Mr. Nolan died have been converted into a treatment unit housing seriously mentally ill inmates in conditions described by the Correctional Investigator as “grossly inadequate,” indicating that the inhumanity of prison conditions is still being ignored:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/mentally-ill-inmates-kept-in-grossly-inadequate-conditions-1.2554110

While other countries, including the Unites States, are taking steps to address the problems of solitary confinement, Canada persists with practices which have been denounced as cruel:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canadian-prisons-out-of-step-on-solitary-confinement/article10103358/

This neglect is made worse by the fact that the percentage of prisoners battling mental illnesses has more than doubled between 1997 and 2008, making them more vulnerable to stressful environments:  http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/comm/pdf/presentations/presentations20120318-eng.pdf

Instead of the demonstrably dangerous use of solitary confinement being restricted, it has increased in Canadian federal prisons by 700 placements in the last 5 years:  http://www.lawtimesnews.com/201407074069/headline-news/prison-segregation-rising

As early as 1976, the courts declared that the confinement of prisoners in solitary confinement at a British Columbia penitentiary violated Bill of Rights protections against cruel and unusual treatment:  McCann v. The Queen [1976] 1 F.C. 570.  But it is the recent surge of public inquiries, damage suits, and international human rights findings that might finally prompt some action to limit the use of segregation, particularly for those with mental health issues.

The 2007 suicide in solitary confinement of the troubled teenager Ashley Smith while guards waited and watched outside her cell shocked the public.  A Coroners’ Jury reporting in 2013 found the death to be a homicide and made 104 recommendations.

Since Ashely’s death, we have learned about the suicide of Edward Snowshoe in solitary at a federal penitentiary in Saskatchewan, and a further Inquest has reported on the suicide of three separate prisoners within 8 months in the same unit of a federal penitentiary in British Columbia.   Many more deaths in segregation cells across the country have gone unnoticed.

But, those who have been concerned with achieving humane prison conditions have called for changes.  The Correctional Investigator has asked for a ban on the use of solitary confinement or ‘segregation’ for prisoners battling mental illness.  In 2012, the United Nations Committee against Torture found Canada to have violated its obligations under the Convention against Torture by its use of prolonged solitary confinement of mentally-ill prisoners, recommending that Canada abolish the use of solitary confinement for persons with serious or acute mental health issues, limit its use generally, and ensure judicial oversight.  In December 2013, the Coroner’s Jury in the Inquest into Ashley Smith’s death ruled it a homicide and made recommendations to prevent such deaths, such as by limiting periods of segregation to fifteen days.  But despite the known risk to mental health, the government has not yet implemented the recommended limits to solitary confinement for federal inmates.

Courageous prisoners who have been subjected to protracted periods of solitary confinement have brought legal actions against both provincial and federal correctional authorities.  Ms Bobby Lee Worm, represented by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union, reached a settlement in her suit against Correctional Services of Canada.  Christina Jahn suffers from a mental illness and has spent more than 200 days in segregation at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre.  Her settlement with the Ontario government provides that “segregation for inmates with mental illness shall not be used unless the ministry can demonstrate alternatives to segregation have been considered and rejected.”  These settlements indicate that correctional authorities are aware of the damage caused to mental health through solitary confinement.

By law, correctional authorities owe a duty of care to those they are detaining.  They should not subject individuals to conditions that endanger their lives or could result in permanent injury.

Since Edward Nolan’s suicide in segregation 40 years ago, our knowledge about the detrimental effects of solitary confinement has increased.  The practice is cruel.  Canada has been asked to limit periods of solitary confinement, to ban it for those who are mentally ill, and to provide judicial oversight of its use.  It is time to make these recommendations a reality.

 Vimeo Films
‘Til the cows come home…

A documentary preview on the closing of five profitable prison farms around Kingston drew sold-out audiences and is now available for interested local groups to show.  The script insists that the future of food, the future of justice and the future of democracy are all contained in the struggle to keep the farms.  http://www.prisonfarmfilm.org

 Toronto Star –
Prisoners record Canada’s first album from behind bars 

The men who used to tend the cows in Kingston’s prison farms have produced Canada’s first record from behind bars.  Record produce Chris Brown brought singer Sarah McDermott into the Pittsburgh Institution and the Pros and Cons is a mixture of folk, rock, R&B and gospel produced in the prison chapel.  http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/2014/07/27/prisoners_record_canadas_first_album_from_behind_bars.html

 Globe and Mail – Tom Cordoso
Crime rate down to lowest levels since 1969: five insights from 2013 police data 

Declines have been recorded for overall crime and for the severity of crime, and the murder rate is the lowest since 1969.  The report offers break downs, trends with both those with lower rates and those with higher rates, and a comparison of crime rate by metro areas across Canada.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/five-insights-from-2013-police-data/article19721657

 Toronto Star – Nicholas Keung
Ottawa spurns UN criticism of years-long detention of migrants   

The UN says that indefinite detention for immigrant / refugee applicants is a violation of international human rights but CBSA says that Canadian law allows for the detention of foreign immigrants denied permission to stay.  “The agency, responsible for immigration enforcement, was responding to an opinion issued this week by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions that urged the immediate release of Michael Mvogo, who has been held in jail since 2006 for immigration violations.”  http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2014/07/24/ottawa_spurns_un_criticism_of_yearslong_detention_of_migrants.html

 Vancouver Sun – Kim Boylan
New B.C. booklet describes how gangs work  

Prepared jointly by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. and the Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s AT-CURA Project, the booklet, called Understanding Youth and Gangs, wants to alert parents and educators to the tip-offs that a child is being recruited for gang activity and how to prevent gang affiliations.   http://www.vancouversun.com/news/booklet+describes+gangs+work/10063447/story.html#ixzz38hB9q2k5  Booklet:  Understanding Youth and Gangs (an 11 page downloadable pdf)    http://cfseu.bc.ca/en/files/UnderstandingYouthAndGangs.pdf


Sydney Morning Herald (AU) – Eileen Baldry
Change jail mentality and there will be fewer offenders 

The New South Wales state criminal justice system seems to have a disconnect.  A policy to reduce imprisonment, fewer returning to prison, fewer returning to crime, falling crime rates, reduced spending but growing numbers of inmates!   Experts think the cause is a mentality in the system for police to arrest more, followed by more convictions more and more offenses bringing jail time, mostly low hanging fruit.  Sound familiar?  Baldry asks: “Are we using the prisons for social problems?”  http://www.smh.com.au/comment/change-jail-mentality-and-there-will-be-fewer-offenders-20140727-zxcq9.html#ixzz38gSrIYDY

getreading.com – Bracknell, England
Encouraging results from restorative justice scheme in Bracknell 

Local police are pleased with a RJ program that has seen only 23% re-offense rate for youth and adults referred to the RJ process.  The local police have referred over 1100 cases.  The process does not involve the RJ referral for serious offences.  http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/local-news/encouraging-results-restorative-justice-scheme-7505448