A three-year investigation by British Columbia’s ombudsperson concludes the provincial government’s practice of placing jailed youth in solitary confinement is “unjust and unsafe.”
Jay Chalke, whose office investigates complaints against provincial and local authorities, says in a release that the confinement also disproportionately impacts Indigenous youth.
Chalke says B.C.’s laws should be changed to boost oversight abilities and to set a maximum of 22 hours that the youth, aged 12 to 17, can be placed in solitary.
B.C. has two youth custody centres in Prince George and Burnaby, and the study found the average duration of confinement increased over a three-year period, including in one case when a youth spent 78 out of 81 days in solitary.
The report makes 26 recommendations, ranging from amending B.C.’s Youth Justice Act to providing better care for prisoners with mental health issues.
In response to the report, Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean says B.C. is developing a framework to improve and modernize its youth justice system.
Dean says 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 people, 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 address it head-on,” she says in a statement.
Chalke says he’s encouraged that the ministry has accepted the recommendations but the lack of urgency by the government is concerning.
“It is time to give these issues — and these young people — the priority they need,” Chalke said in a statement.
Despite a drop in the number of youths being placed into the province’s two detention centres from 2017 to 2019, the report notes the duration of isolation rose and Indigenous youth accounted for more than half of the solitary confinement incidents.
“These practices of isolation can create a self-reinforcing cycle in which the harmful effects of isolation make it harder for a person to be in a non-isolated environment, and so isolation is more likely to continue,” the report says.
The report also calls for an end to isolating youth under the age of 16.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2021.