Ottawa aims to add new limits to controversial use of dry cells in prisons

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OTTAWA — The federal government says it is changing prison regulations to limit the use of dry cells and improve the process for the search and seizure of contraband in correctional institutions.

Dry cells, in which there is no access to running water, are used to closely monitor inmates under bright lighting on the expectation they will eventually pass whatever they might be concealing in their bodies.

The proposed regulations would require officials to use body scanner technology more often to identify contraband, and set a 72-hour maximum for detention in a dry cell, with special authorization required for any extension.

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger has said the practice, in which people are sometimes held for several days in what is essentially solitary confinement, is the most degrading practice in federal corrections.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino's office issued a ministerial directive last year that required the Correctional Service of Canada to provide a written rationale when inmates are kept in the controversial cells for more than two days.

Mendicino's office also banned the practice for women suspected of carrying contraband in their vaginas, in response to a 2021 Supreme Court of Nova Scotia decision that deemed the practice unlawful.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.

The Canadian Press