Public safety minister adds new rules on prison 'dry cells' for suspected contraband

·2 min read

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino issued new directives today on the use of "dry cells" to keep inmates from bringing contraband into federal prisons.

Prisoners who are suspected of concealing contraband, such as drugs, within their bodies are kept in a cell that has no plumbing fixtures on the assumption that any items will be expelled.

The ministerial direction to the Correctional Service of Canada requires prisons to provide written rationale when inmates are kept in such cells for more than two days.

It also requires the service to consider offenders' "physical and mental well-being" when assessing that rationale.

In this year's budget, the federal government banned the practice for women suspected of carrying contraband in their vaginas, in response to a Supreme Court of Nova Scotia decision last year that deemed the practice unlawful.

But critics including correctional investigator Ivan Zinger have condemned the use of dry cells for any prisoner as too restrictive and degrading.

Mendicino's directive requires written notice and rationale to be provided to regional headquarters when a prisoner is expected to be in a dry cell for more than 48 hours, and to national headquarters when it goes beyond 72 hours.

The directive further clarifies that prisoners must be provided with adequate bedding, nutritious food, clothing and toiletry articles.

Zinger said in his 2020 annual report that three days is too long, writing that in his opinion, "beyond 72 hours there can be no further reason or justification to detain or keep a person in such depriving conditions," and "after three days, surely this procedure becomes unreasonable, if not strictly punitive."

At the time the Correctional Service of Canada rejected that recommendation, saying that some people can avoid a bowel movement for a longer period of time than that.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2022.

The Canadian Press