Soleiman’s last four days at the Central East Correctional Centre were spent in segregation. Also known as “solitary confinement,” segregation isolates prisoners and subjects them to unstructured days, causing tremendous stress and depriving them of meaningful social contact. Segregation is known to severely exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness, and is considered by the United Nations as a form of “torture” when applied to mentally ill prisoners.
The province’s official adviser on corrections Howard Sapers found that solitary confinement was the default – not the exception – for vulnerable prisoners like people with mental health disabilities. He also reported that the use of segregation among inmates with mental health issues had increased throughout 2016 and 2017. This was the period when Soli was placed in segregation.
In September 2017, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) launched legal action against the government of Ontario over its illegal use of solitary confinement on prisoners with mental health disabilities.
Ontario had repeatedly violated a legally-binding agreement signed in 2013, regarding the mistreatment of Christina Jahn, a woman with mental illness who was held in segregation for more than 200 days. In its settlement with Jahn, the provincial government had agreed to prohibit the use of segregation for people with mental health disabilities, provide mental health screening and services, and accurately document, review and report on the use of segregation.
In its legal action, the OHRC requested for the same reforms to be made with a sense of urgency, with OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane stating: “This is a matter of life or death. We feel like another death in these circumstances is entirely predictable and could happen next week, next month.”