By The Canadian Press on June 15, 2021.
VICTORIA – British Columbia’s use of solitary confinement among young inmates is “disturbing” and the province needs to change its practices to follow international standards, said the province’s ombudsman.
A three-year investigation by Jay Chalke concludes that the provincial government’s use of solitary confinement for young prisoners is “unfair and unsafe”.
“It’s inconsistent with juvenile justice legislation, it’s inconsistent with international norms and conventions, and recent Canadian court rulings that have found analogous practice with adults in prisons to be unconstitutional,” he said on Tuesday of the current implementation of the confinement for those aged between 12 and 17 years.
Chalke, whose office investigates complaints against provincial and local authorities, said the confinement disproportionately impacts indigenous youth, especially First Nations women.
BC laws must be amended to meet international standards, increasing supervisory skills, limiting how often a juvenile can be placed in confinement and setting a maximum of 22 hours for solitary confinement, he said.
B.C. has two juvenile custody centers in Prince George and Burnaby, and the study found that the average length of confinement increased over a three-year period. In one case, a young man spent 78 of 81 days in solitary confinement.
“This report reminds us all that we always have to ask what is going on in closed institutions,” Chalke said during a news conference.
The report makes 26 recommendations, ranging from amending the BC Juvenile Justice Act to providing better care for prisoners with mental health problems.
In response to the report, Minister of Family and Children Development, Mitzi Dean, said B.C. is developing a framework to improve and modernize its juvenile justice system.
She said the ministry accepts the “spirit and intent of the recommendations” and will incorporate them into its youth justice framework.
“Both the child welfare system and the justice system are overly involved in the lives of indigenous peoples, children and families. It is part of the damaging colonial legacy that continues to this day ““and as part of our commitment to reconciliation, we need to face it head on,” she said in a statement.
Because the B.C. youth custody rate is the lowest in Canada, Dean said, there are cases where youth, especially girls, are in custody on their own.
“While we don’t consider this confinement separate, the ombudsman has included these circumstances in his data,” she said.
Despite the drop in the number of youths placed in the province’s two detention centers from 2017 to 2019, the report notes that the duration of isolation has increased and indigenous youth were responsible for more than half of the incidents of solitary confinement.
Of the 33 cases of solitary confinement that lasted more than 72 hours, all but one occurred in downtown Burnaby.
“These isolation practices can create a self-reinforcing cycle in which the detrimental effects of isolation make it more difficult for a person to stay in an uninsulated environment and therefore isolation is more likely to continue,” the report says.
Indigenous girls appear to be particularly prone to the practice of confinement, accounting for more than half the hours of solitary confinement among First Nations youth, Chalke said.
Chalke asked for an understanding of what indigenous youth face.
“We have to take seriously the continuing legacy of residential schools and the systemic racism that exists in many of our public institutions,” he said.
The report also calls for an end to the isolation of under-16s.
Chalke said he was excited that the ministry had accepted the recommendations, but the government’s lack of urgency is worrying.
“I’m concerned that the ministry has set timelines for some of the recommendations that are longer than we believe are feasible and appropriate,” he said.
– By Nick Wells in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 15, 2021.