Capay case highlights prison culture of human rights violations

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While the ethics of solitary confinement are a long-standing debate, Canada’s approach to confinement is a pressing point of contention. 
 
In 2012, Adam Capay, then 19, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of a fellow Thunder Bay District Jail inmate. As a result of his crime, Capay spent 1,647 days in solitary confinement in a prison the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner called the worst she’s ever seen.
 
This case highlights the urgent need to reform Canada’s jailing system and its treatment of prisoners. Under the United Nations’ Mandela Rules, prisoners shouldn’t be confined to their cells for 22 hours a day without meaningful human contact for more than 15 days. But, considered a threat to himself and other prisoners, Capay was held in a Plexiglass cell for 23 hours daily over more than four years. 
 
Lights were never turned off in Capay’s soundproof structure. He was given one hour daily to leave his cell to shower and walk in the prison yard, and received less than 11 hours of mental health support from the prison in his four-and-a-half years of administrative segregation.
 
According to Public Safety Canada, administrative segregation differs from controversial solitary confinement because it’s meant to protect high-risk inmates from a prison’s general population. However, rather than protecting him, Capay’s segregation led to him self-harming and unable to differentiate night from day. His ability to speak and his memory degenerated. 
 
If Canada believed in basic human rights for its prisoners, none of this would’ve occurred. Our country has a tendency to only protect rights for those we deem deserving. The belief that human rights are negotiable depending on a person’s social situation undermines those rights by definition.
 
Our correctional system is based on a fundamental belief in reformation, but we can’t continue to claim our correctional process is rehabilitative if it punishes certain—often disadvantaged—groups more than others. This is particularly stark for Indigenous prisoners like Capay scarred by years of abuse by a family with residential school experience.
 
Though Canada doesn’t have an overly high incarceration rate, systemic issues plague our correctional system. Over one-quarter of our federal prison population is Indigenous, and Indigenous individuals are disproportionately punished through solitary confinement. 
 
Our country needs to better acknowledge the systemic wrongs and injustices it’s inflicted on those Indigenous individuals. We would further benefit from non-governmental supervision to verify that human rights standards are being met in correctional facilities. 
 
When Canada violates prisoner human rights and marginalizes certain groups, it undermines our criminal punishment system as a whole. And these short-sighted standards can’t wait to be fixed.
 
 

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