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Report outlines significant deprivations of liberty in provincial jails in Nova Scotia


The COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges for Martimers but a new report says prisoners wound-up facing even greater hardships.

A 185-page report released by East Coast Prison Justice Society outlines the conditions of confinement in male prisons.

Between September to August of 2021-2022, the organization spoke with nearly 80 people behind bars in different correctional facilities across the province.

The group found many cell units within the different facilities isolating prisoners in their cells for more than 15 days, which Canadian courts have said is unconstitutional.

The report outlines health segregation within jails a major concern.

“They are being put in solitary confinement extensively for health related reasons. This can be because someone is recovering from a surgery but it can also be because an individual is disabled and in a wheel chair and unable to be accommodated in a regular unit, “said Harry Critchley, East Coast Prison Justice Society’s Co-Chair.

According to Critchley this means individuals are locked to their space for 22 or more hours per day and are not able to access the same services support, and programs.

Critchley says this is extremely concerning as this also impacts individuals with mental health problems.

“Canadian courts have sad that placing people with serious mental illness in any form of solitary confinement is unconstitutional,” said Critchley. “Nova Scotia Corrections and Nova Scotia Health are increasingly relying on this practice of health segregation in response to suicidality and serious mental health concerns in provincial jails.”

Experts say this impacts inmates significantly.

“To not know when you will see someone, when you will go outside, when you’ll be able to shower is profoundly dehumanizing and really causes distancing from the core self and from that self-worth and autonomy that is critical to being able to rehabilitate,” said Critchley.

While life outside of prison has mostly returned to normal, the report found that the pandemic policies behind bars remain the same.

Critchley says these policies are also affecting prisoners’ disciplinary hearings within the facilities. These hearings occur if an inmate is alleged to have broken a rule, the jail can punish the individual depending on the outcome of the internal hearing.

The organization reported that people are being found guilty of breaches without their right to make a defense – something they would normally be able to do in person.

A provision under the Correctional Service Act states that a prisoner can be excluded from such hearings if they present an immediate safety risk to someone at the hearing.

Critchley explained this provision is being used to prevent prisoners from attending those hearings.

“In the context of COVID, Nova Scotia corrections has interpreted that is the risk of COVID in and of itself is sufficient to on a blanket basis exclude prisoners from attending their own hearings,” he said.

The report also outlined issues related to medical care within correctional facilities which is also the second most common area of concern from prisoners. One of the examples used in the report is lack of access to opioid agonist therapy, which involves taking methadone or suboxone to treat addiction.

Critchley says there is an over representation in provincial jails of people with mental health and addiction issues, treatments like methadone and suboxone combat opioid-related addictions and helps with stabilizing their addiction.

However, a Nova Scotia Health Authority policy states that unless someone goes into provincial custody already having these prescriptions, they will not initiate treatment on these medications.

Critchley says this is because this form of medication is very time and resource intensive and requires frequent visits with a doctor in the initial stages.

“We think this raises significant legal and human rights concerns. There’s decisions from the BC Human Rights Tribunal which have found that it can be an infringement of someone’s human rights and the rights to be accommodated in respect to their disability, not be able to access treatment like this,” he explained.

The organization said 70 per cent of people in prisons in Nova Scotia are still awaiting trial.

The organization says it wants to see inmates released into community settings – something the province did at the beginning of the pandemic.

For full coverage of Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated page. Top Stories

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