Two former prison inmates have started a lawsuit claiming solitary confinement is a brutal practice that should not be used in Newfoundland and Labrador's correctional system.
"It is a cruel and unusual form of imprisonment," lawyer Lynn Moore said Wednesday.
"When you deprive someone of human interaction for extended periods of time, then you do them psychological harm. There is evidence from experts that there is real damage done to people who are deprived of human contact."
Moore said solitary confinement does the opposite of rehabilitating people.
"The object of the criminal [justice] system is to make society safer. We don't make society safer if we put people in prison and they come out worse than when they went in. They come out damaged. They come out with exacerbated mental health issues," she said.
"It's just counterproductive and it's wrong."
Suit involves former inmates at HMP, Clarenville
Moore and lawyer Jim Locke have file a statement of claim in court on behalf of two former inmates.
Paul Hennebury was sentenced to serve time at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, where he was placed in solitary confinement. Nikita Pearce, who was sentenced to serve time at the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville, was also put in solitary confinement.
We don't make society safer if we put people in prison and they come out worse than when they went in. They come out damaged. - Lynn Moore
"How Hennebury put it was that it seemed like the walls were talking to him. He was in there for that long," said lawyer Jim Locke, another of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs through the firm Morris, Martin and Moore.
"For Pearce, who recollects that she was in solitary confinement for 24 days — she found it to be stressful, it induced anxiety and led to depression to the point where she was prescribed medications she hadn't been prescribed before being held in solitary confinement."
The lawyers hope to find more people who've been put in solitary confinement, particularly for periods of more than 15 days. They say the lawsuit won't expand to include correctional systems outside Newfoundland and Labrador.
"This action will focus on the correctional system in our province but it may include individuals who may now live outside our province but have previously been in Newfoundland and Labrador's correctional facilities," said Locke.
Suit also aims to change system
The lawyers said they chose to proceed with a class action for a number of reasons.
"There's a certain level of justice that can be accessed in class action that can be realized in a class action that can't be realized in individual actions," said Locke.
"Sometimes to process an individual action the financial resources necessary just simply outweigh what could ultimately be realized at the end of the action. There is also the benefit of attracting media attention and drawing the government's attention to this issue and we are hoping that can serve as a change agent."
The lawyers say the next step is to make an application to a judge to certify the class action. That step is necessary for the suit to proceed.
They say they don't expect the government of Newfoundland and Labrador will respond with a statement of defence until after that happens.