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Decision to keep a prisoner in segregation needs daily review: Harnett

Article originally published on May 17, 2017 by Advocate Daily.

With the release of the Howard Sapers’ report scrutinizing the use of segregation, it’s encouraging that correctional facilities are trying to manage mental-health needs in a “humane and thoughtful way,” but there’s currently no method in place to deal with these issues within the jail system, Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett tells The Lawyers Daily.

“We have no mechanism for reviewing the sentence in light of these kinds of post-sentence problems,” he says. “It strikes me that parole boards should be given the tools to be able to address those issues where they arise in the institution.”

Harnett, principal of Aaron B. Harnett Criminal Defence Lawyer, sees it as is a problem that can be managed through the granting of conditional releases.

“And expanding the role and the funding for parole reviews in these cases would, I think, be a cost-effective and efficient way of addressing the problem without the need for prolonged and inappropriate use of solitary confinement,” he says.

The report, released May 4, provided 41 recommendations for the use of segregation in Ontario jails, including imposing a 15-day cap on placements in solitary confinement; banning segregation for suicidal inmates or those who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness; and employing independent officers to oversee solitary confinement, reports The Lawyers Daily.

Harnett says the issue isn’t about the length of time someone should remain in solitary confinement, but more about the need to review the decision to place them there on a daily basis.

“Anecdotally, we heard during the preparation of the report that the process of confirming the decision to keep somebody in solitary is hardly robust,” he said.

“It amounts to little more, in many cases, to performing a checking of a box and that opportunity to constantly review the appropriateness of a solitary confinement disposition isn’t working. You need funding and training to allow people to make a proper ongoing assessment.”

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