Nova Scotia jails not always following solitary confinement rules, says AG

Nova Scotia's auditor general has found prisoners in Nova Scotia jails are being segregated without proper authorization and officials are not always monitoring those they place in close confinement.

Justice Department agrees there's a problem and has hired ombudsman's office to review situation

Doors to cells in a jail segregation unit at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Priestville outside Halifax. (Stephanie Blanchet/Radio-Canada)

Nova Scotia's auditor general's office has found the Justice Department isn't following its own rules when it comes to placing or keeping prisoners in what is called "close confinement."

In his latest report, auditors in Michael Pickup's office reviewed documents related to segregation and discovered in nine out of 47 cases "offenders were placed or held in close confinement longer than allowed without the approval required under department policy."

These are offenders who were being disciplined or were being kept separate from other offenders for "administrative reasons".

Those include the offender's own protection or for the safety of staff or the facility itself.

The Department of Justice has agreed to all 12 recommendations suggested by Auditor General Michael Pickup's office. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

A senior jail guard is supposed to authorize segregation, but there was no evidence that was done in seven cases. 

When segregation is deemed appropriate for disciplinary reasons, an outside adjudicator reviews the case and determines if an offender did break the rules and recommends the length of punishment. In the 20 cases reviewed by auditors, this outside review did take place, but in five of the cases — or 20 per cent of the time — an offender was kept in segregation beyond the initial 10-day limit.

"The facilities also did not have documentation explaining why confinement was needed or continued for five of the 47 cases we examined," said the AG's report.

Other issues noted by the auditors included:

  • In 22 of 47 files examined, staff did not review the status of offenders at the correct frequency. (It's supposed to be within 24 hours of confinement, then every five days.)
  • In 35 of 47 cases, there wasn't any documentation to show an offender was offered time for showers or recreation. (Offenders are supposed to be given 30 minutes outdoor recreation every day and get showers every two days.)
  • Confinement for medical reasons does not require documentation by medical staff to confirm need.

The Department of Justice has agreed to all 12 recommendations suggested by the AG's office.

As a result of the audit, the Office of the Ombudsman will "complete regular reviews and audits of the process" to ensure close confinement is properly approved and that access to recreation and showers is provided and documented.