Noted criminologist to head panel on replacement for solitary confinement

TORONTO — A veteran criminologist has been tabbed to head a panel on implementing an alternative system to solitary confinement.

In an announcement on Friday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale named Anthony Doob, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, as chair of the new advisory panel.

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Legislation passed in June eliminates solitary confinement as an option in federal prisons as of November 30. Instead of placing prisoners in segregation for safety reasons or as punishment, the law calls for the creation of "structured intervention units."

The necessary infrastructure changes and staff hiring are expected to be in place when the new rules kick in, the government said.

Inmate isolation, which can lead to severe mental health issues, has faced years of fierce criticism and a barrage of successful court challenges.

"We know from recent debates there are few simple solutions to the complex, multi-dimensional problems of accommodating offenders who need to be separated from the general population," Doob said in a statement. "I am pleased to chair this panel that will have a role in advising how structured intervention units might be implemented in a thoughtful, humane fashion."

Offenders who need separating from the rest of the inmate population will have enhanced access to programming, mental health care, and meaningful interactions with other people in the structured intervention units, the government said.

In addition, the new system will be subject to independent external oversight, the government said.

The eight-person panel will help monitor and assess the implementation of the new units.

"We are committed to implementing Bill C-83 in a spirit of transparency and accountability," Goodale said. "This advisory panel, with its diversity of perspectives and expertise, will play an essential role in ensuring that the new...system achieves our goal of humane and effective corrections in a safe and secure environment."

Other members of the panel have expertise in fields such as forensic psychiatry, human rights, criminal law, correctional operations and the rehabilitation of Indigenous offenders. The government said they were chosen based on their experience and proven competence.

The panel will provide feedback to the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada. It will also alert the minister directly about any problems or concerns related to the implementation of the new system.

Recently, an Ontario judge awarded $20 million to certain inmates who had been placed in segregation for more than 15 days at a stretch. Several similar class actions are winding their way through the courts.

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