Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon (FASSY) supports the sweeping recommendations made in the recent Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) inspection report, the non-profit organization said in a press release late last week.
However, a member of its board of directors says that the non-profit organization would also like to see immediate action that would improve the situation of inmates currently at the centre, too, including having more mental health professionals on hand and better training and education for both staff and inmates.
In a statement dated Aug. 24, FASSY, the territory’s leading organization that advocates for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), said that it was “pleased” with recommendations made by legal advisor David Loukidelis in his report, released Aug. 15, following a months-long review of the WCC’s facilities, policies and practices.
The report contains 40 recommendations on how the WCC should be improved, with many of the recommendations focusing on mental health, the use of segregation, and First Nations cultural accommodation.
Two of the recommendations are specifically related to improving conditions for inmates with FASD and include ensuring that “appropriate FASD-related services and supports are provided to WCC clients in a consistent, professionally-informed manner,” and that all correctional officers be trained on how to work with people either diagnosed or with suspected FASD.
“FASSY is pleased to see the release of this important report and supports many of its findings,” the statement says. “We know that jail is not the place for individuals with FASD and that they struggle when incarcerated… The focus on reducing separate confinement and on improving responses to some of the challenging behaviours of people with FASD, particularly in a confined and institutional setting is overdue and welcome.”
But while larger, systemic changes are important, it’s also important to remember that there are inmates with FASD at the WCC right now, FASSY board of directors member Catherine Lyon said in an interview Aug. 30.
“There needs to be a little more happening now for the clients, for individuals with FASD that are at WCC instead of just policy changes or things that are going to occur in the intermediate or long-term,” Lyon said. “People are going through the problems right now and there needs to be changes to (address) the problems that they’re having.”
One big issue is that people with FASD may have difficulty remembering instructions and rules as well as understanding time frames and cause-and-effect, Lyons said, meaning that punishments, such as putting someone in separate confinement, aren’t “meaningful” and lead to confusion and fear.
To address that, Lyon said that immediate education on how to work with people with FASD is needed for both WCC staff as well as inmates — inmates without FASD, because they’re living with inmates who do have it and need better understanding of why they may act or react in certain ways, and inmates with FASD so they can better advocate for themselves. The WCC also needs more medical and mental health staff, Lyons said, who are trained to offer support and care for inmates with FASD.
Meanwhile, the Yukon’s Department of Justice announced in a press release Aug. 29 that it had formed an implementation working group that will be responsible for, as the name suggests, figuring out how to implement the report’s recommendations.
The group is being chaired by assistant deputy minister of justice Allan Lucier, whose portfolio includes corrections and the WCC. Lucier is the group’s only explicitly-named member. While there will be officials from the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Council of Yukon First Nations, Kwanlin Dün First Nation and another as-of-yet undecided Yukon First Nation, those bodies will be able to pick representatives to attend different meetings as they see fit.
“We wanted to leave it flexible so that the names of the individuals (don’t) restrict us to being flexible in arranging meetings or allowing others to be present representing those organizations, depending on what’s on the agenda or the need to have presence,” Lucier said in an interview Aug. 30.
The group’s first meeting will take place sometime before Sept. 30.
As part of its work, the group will have to create a timeline of when recommendations will be implemented and provide regular updates to deputy minister of justice Lesley McCullough, with the first update due in November 2018. While it’s up to McCullough and justice minister Tracy-Anne McPhee on whether those updates will be made public, Lucier said that he thinks transparency will be an important part of the process.
“It will only be through that that most people see, recognize or are aware that changes within corrections practice are happening because of course not everybody is close to that or is involved in that but I think people do have an interest in it,” he said.
The group’s activities will be funded by the Yukon’s justice department. Lucier said it’s too early to say what the budget will look like or where it will be coming from.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org