Ontario appeal court upholds class action rulings against isolation in prisons

TORONTO – Even without a full-blown trial, a judge was right to decide that placing inmates in solitary confinement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of their rights, Ontario’s top court ruled on Monday.

In upholding summary judgments in two separate but related class actions, the Court of Appeal agreed the federal government had long ignored warnings about the dangers of prolonged segregation and the lack of independent oversight of such placements.

One of the current cases, with Christopher Brazeau as representative plaintiff, involves the placement of mentally ill inmates in isolation. The class in the other case, spearheaded by Jullian Reddock, takes in prisoners placed in administrative segregation for at least 15 straight days.

“Canada chose to ignore repeated recommendations for some form of independent review of administrative segregation,” the Appeal Court said. “Canada also continued to place inmates suffering from mental illness in administrative segregation, despite repeated warnings of the harm that this practice caused.”

Last year, Superior Court Justice Paul Perell ruled there was no need for trials to decide the claims. Perell sided with the inmates in both suits. In Reddock, he also found Canada liable for “systemic negligence.”

Perell awarded $20 million in preliminary damages for each class. In one case, he said, the money should go to the inmates. In the other, he ruled it should go toward “structural changes” to prisons to improve conditions for mentally ill inmates.

On appeal, the federal government argued Perell should have ruled only after a trial. The higher court rejected the argument based on “ample evidence” the federal government failed to heed repeated warnings that segregation, especially when prolonged, can have devastating psychological impact on inmates.

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