KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A youth has been held in solitary confinement in the adult Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou for an entire year, severely compromising his treatment and rehabilitation, and negatively affecting his fragile mental health.
In a recent decision Justice Anne Derrick argues that the young man should be returned to the Nova Scotia Youth Facility in Waterville, where he can get treatment. However, in her decision Derrick expresses fears that the Department of Justice will ignore that recommendation and continue the status quo.
The provincial Correctional Services division has argued that return of the youth to the Waterville facility will negatively affect the culture there, and puts staff at risk. It wants the young man moved to an adult institution to finish his sentence, but Justice Derrick has ruled against this.
The youth was serving a so-called Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision (IRCS) sentence for second-degree murder at the Nova Scotia Youth Facility in Waterville. But after a violent incident that resulted in severe injuries for several staff, he was transferred to the adult correctional facility in Pictou, where he has been ever since.
The IRCS sentence is intensive rehabilitative sentencing option for young persons suffering from mental or psychological disorders, and includes an intensive individualized therapeutic treatment plan.
But the youth move to Pictou has effectively ended much of that intense treatment, a treatment that various witnesses quoted in the decision suggested was by and large effective.
For the last year the young man has been separated from other adults and has had no contact with the other prisoners. One witness testified that the youth has not had contact with peers and prisoners “unless he is yelling through a wall.”
And it appears this isolation is taking its toll. One member of his treatment team testified that “he was experiencing difficulties with sleeping, a loss of appetite, sensitivity to light and sound, mood fluctuations – sometimes agitated, sometimes depressed, increased hostility, and an increase in paranoia and anxiety.”
The intensity and frequency of treatment that the youth received changed for the worse after the move. In her decision Justice Derrick concludes that since the move “he has not been receiving the intensive therapeutic intervention … identified as essential and that was an embedded feature of Mr. B.P.’s IRCS sentence.”
In April of this year we asked the Department of Justice to comment on a related case affecting the same youth, who at that that time had been in solitary confinement for 200 days or so.
“Our priority is to ensure staff and inmates are safe in our facilities. Close Confinement may be used to ensure the safety of both staff and inmates. Case management teams provide ongoing services and programs to assist offenders. Nova Scotia Correctional Services employs social workers and has a partnership with IWK forensic services for services to youth, wrote Sarah Gillis, spokesperson for the department on April 19.
“We cannot speak to any circumstances of individual inmates. We also do not comment on decisions made by the Court,” Gillis added.
Senator Kim Pate, one of the country’s most prominent advocates for prisoners rights, is concerned about the Province’s reluctance to follow up on Justice Derrick’s recommendations.
“The fact that Nova Scotia correctional authorities have re-segregated the youth in the face of Justice Derrick’s decision is shocking,” says Pate in a news release issued by Claire MacNeil, a lawyer at Dalhousie Legal Aid who represents the youth.
“Justice Derrick’s decision underscores the value of judicial oversight and the need to end the use of isolation and segregation, particularly for youth and those with mental health needs. The United Nations considers the use of solitary confinement of youth and those with mental health issues as torture,” Pate says.
“Since my grandson was sent to Pictou we cannot visit him as a family and we worry that being left all alone by himself day after day, month after month, has been really hard on him mentally and emotionally – we just want him to go back to Waterville where he can get the help he needs,” says the young man’s grandmother in that same news release.
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I completely respect that working to create safety in prisons to the fullest extent that this is possible is an important goal. However, a practice that results in “difficulties with sleeping, a loss of appetite, sensitivity to light and sound, mood fluctuations – sometimes agitated, sometimes depressed, increased hostility, and an increase in paranoia and anxiety” for the person subjected to it is unsafe. A practice that has been deemed a form of torture by the United Nations is by definition unsafe.
People may need to think of creative ways to safely and constructively work with people who are experiencing some serious struggles. But by using some ingenuity, teamwork and patience, people should be able to help individuals like this troubled and probably extremely unhappy and confused person grow in positive ways. This will benefit everyone long-term.