Keep mentally ill out of prison segregation cells
February 7, 2018
It should go without saying that solitary confinement in a jail cell is no place for the mentally ill, if for no other reason than it cruelly exacerbates their symptoms.
But that is where Soleiman Faqiri was held for five days while awaiting a mental health assessment before he died under horrific circumstances.
Documents obtained by the Star’s Fatima Syed from a police investigation indicate the 30-year-old died on Dec. 15, 2016, after an “altercation” with correctional officers in the Lindsay, Ont., jail where he was being held on remand.
But the devil is in the details. The “altercation” actually lasted three hours and at one point 20 to 30 officers were involved in subduing Faqiri, who was schizophrenic.
They pepper sprayed him twice; covered his face with a spit hood; and held his body down with leg irons. A coroner’s report found Faqiri suffered more than 50 injuries.
If his treatment sounds like something from the Dark Ages, that’s because it was. And despite warnings from ombudsman and human rights organizations, mentally ill prisoners are held in segregation to this day.
Indeed, a damning report on solitary confinement in Ontario jails, released by former federal prisons watchdog Howard Sapers last May, found that the share of segregation cells occupied by prisoners with mental-health issues actually increased from 32 per cent to 45 per cent between 2015 and 2016, alone.
Human rights groups, ombudsmen reports and court cases have shone a spotlight on this troubling situation in the last few years, leading to some changes. In fact, in the same month Faqiri died, the province promised to hire 239 more staff for its 26 prisons, including much-needed mental-health nurses, psychologists and social workers.
While that’s a step in the right direction, the simple fact is this: the mentally ill should never be held in solitary. Period.