We hope you found this article interesting, enough to read to the bottom. Help us publish more in 2022.

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past two years, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

We’re on a mission to add 650 new monthly supporters to our ranks to help us have another year of impactful journalism – will you join us?

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Help us hit our year-end target of 650 new monthly supporters and join Tyee Builders today.
We’re looking for 650 new monthly supporters to fund our newsroom – are you one of them?

Small independent news media are having a moment – we’re gaining supporters, winning awards, and publishing more impactful journalism than ever. We’re starting to see glimmers of a hopeful future for independent journalism in Canada.

The Tyee works for our readers, because we are funded by you. We don’t lock our articles behind a paywall, and we focus all of our energy into publishing original, in-depth journalism that you won’t read anywhere else. It’s our full-time job because readers pay us to do it.

Over the last two years, we’ve been able to double our staff team and publish more than ever. We’re gearing up for another year and we need to know how much we are working with. Thousands of Tyee readers have signed up to support our independent newsroom through our Tyee Builders program, and we’re inviting you to join.

From now until Dec. 31, we’re aiming to bring aboard 650 new monthly supporters to The Tyee to help us do even more in 2022.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Help us hit our year-end target of 650 new monthly supporters and join Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
Get our free newsletter
Sign Up
News
  |  
Indigenous
  |  
Rights + Justice
  |  
BC Politics

‘Heartbreaking’ Report Condemns Abuse of Solitary Confinement in Youth Jails

BC ombudsperson says long stays damage mental health and reinforce trauma. Indigenous females are being hurt the most.

Hiren Mansukhani 16 Jun 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Hiren Mansukhani is a writer and reporter who is working with The Tyee in partnership with the Tula Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @hirenm1996.

Youth in B.C. jails are being subjected to long periods of damaging solitary confinement “with few meaningful safeguards and little effective oversight,” according to a damning report from the province’s ombudsperson released Tuesday.

And Indigenous youth and young women are especially likely to be locked up alone for 22 hours a day despite the risks for young people who are often dealing with mental health challenges and histories of trauma and abuse, says the report from Jay Chalke.

“Youth in custody… are some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” the report says. “When youth in custody are separately confined, they have little recourse to assert or protect their rights.”

The investigation, conducted from January 2017 to December 2019, examined the use of “separate confinement” in the Burnaby Youth Custody Services Centre and Prince George Youth Custody Services Centre. Together the two institutions housed about 28 youth on an average day.

The report found that while individual cases of solitary confinement fell to 72 from 570 in the last seven years, the average length of time in solitary tripled from 2017 to 2019.

The longest use of solitary saw a youth spend 78 days over a stretch of 81 days locked up for 22 hours a day.

Chalke said solitary confinement for 12- to 17-year-olds cuts them off from supports and does serious harm.

“Youth had limited and inconsistent access to mental health support, schooling and other programs,” he wrote, and were cut off from cultural and spiritual supports. If counsellors were communicating with the youths, it was often through a slot in their cell doors.

“Separate confinement was often accompanied by the repeated use of force, including forced clothing removal,” the report says, retraumatizing vulnerable youth. “Not surprisingly, youth struggled in this environment, and the isolation they faced contributed to a deterioration of their mental health over time.”

Longer stays in solitary — over 72 hours — “were most commonly used to respond to youth who were self-injuring or suicidal” and “experienced almost exclusively by female youth and mostly by Indigenous and racialized female youth.”

Jennifer Metcalfe, executive director of West Coast Prison Justice Society, an advocacy group that provides legal-aid to prisoners in Canada, said she was “pained” by the report.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear about this happening to people who are so young, and who get involved in the justice system. They are the ones who need more support… it's particularly upsetting with the recent news about residential schools,” Metcalfe told The Tyee.

“All of this just goes to show how Canada continues to keep young Indigenous people in conditions that the United Nations considers to be torture.”

Indigenous youth account for about 10 per cent of B.C.’s youth population, but 49 per cent of all youth locked up in 2019. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found over-incarceration of Indigenous people resulted from factors like the legacy of colonization and residential schools.

The report noted the Ministry of Children and Families’ operations manual claims a main objective of its custody services is to “consult with Indigenous communities and invite Indigenous community participation in making services more relevant and responsive to Indigenous youth.” That’s not reflected in the use of solitary confinement.

Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean responded to the report in a letter that said the ministry has “more work to do to create a trauma-informed model within youth custody centres and build in better protections for youth, quality assurance and oversight processes.”

Dean said that she found the acts of forcibly removing the clothing of youth and locking them up in solitary confinement “deeply disturbing. They have no place in a trauma-informed model and I have been assured that staff have recently issued a policy directive to make it clear such practices can never happen.”

A major concern in the ombudsperson’s report was the lack of complex care, including mental health supports, for youth in custody centres and the use of force to compel them to co-operate with officers.

One of the cases includes a girl who tried to avoid contact with staff by ignoring their knocks on her door. When the girl refused to go to the isolation unit one day and started harming herself the officers violently forced her to go with them.

The prison justice society’s Metcalfe said using force is the easy way out and reveals a lack of understanding of trauma.

For instance, she noted, one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is hyper-vigilance.

“So if they’re constantly afraid that someone is going to attack you, then they might act out pre-emptively… such people should be provided with mental health support,” Metcalfe said.

If someone is self-harming or suicidal they need a trained person to talk with them and come up with a care plan to identify their triggers,” she said. “It’s important to give them treatments for the trauma that they’ve already experienced instead of just compounding that trauma.”

The report outlined 26 recommendations including mental health training for staff, encouraging meaningful social contact among youth in custody, access to counselling services and using solitary confinement as a last resort while limiting stays to one day.

The report also recommended that youth with complex care needs should be transferred to a designated youth psychiatric facility.

Chalke said the recommendations aren’t just about adding resources but transforming the way staff approach youth in custody in a way that helps treat their mental illnesses.

“Major changes will just have to be made,” Chalke said. The report calls for implementation of all the recommendations over the next three years.

Grace Pastine, litigation director at the BC Liberties Association, said she was pleased the important report had been released.

But she said it’s shameful that “this is the state of affairs in Canada.” There shouldn’t be any debate about the costs, Pastine said. “Upholding fundamental rights and freedoms always requires an investment of resources.”

“What are the costs if we don’t implement trauma-informed supportive alternatives to solitary confinement? What are the costs in terms of children’s broken lives? What are the costs to society as a whole when we’re unable to appropriately care for young people and help them enter a flourishing adulthood? You can’t simply quantify what those are, they are so large.”  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.

Do:

  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll