More resources aimed at prisoners in solitary, but treatment is optional

The first time Michael Nehass went to court, Helen Rissanen remembers holding his hand. “He was a real lost kid,” said the 65-year-old…

The first time Michael Nehass went to court, Helen Rissanen remembers holding his hand.

“He was a real lost kid,” said the 65-year-old grandmother.

Now, 10 years later, Nehass is in solitary confinement at Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

He’s been in the windowless, five-by-eight cell for the last few months.

Rissanen first met Nehass when he was 13.

His father was friends with Rissanen’s son.

“I used to go with Michael to see his probation officers,” said Rissanen.

“Nobody knows him the way I do.”

When Nehass was really young, his father remembers him tripping and falling over people passed out in the house, she said.

“He didn’t know where to go — he was little and crying.”

Rissanen ran into Nehass in Rotary Park, when he was in his early teens.

“He was all beaten up and living on the streets,” she said.

Last week, when Rissanen learned that Nehass was in solitary confinement, she almost cried.

“I want to help him,” she said.

“I want to let him know life can be good.”

It’s easy to pass the buck, said Rissanen.

“I kept thinking they would take care of him. But nobody should go through that, not in this day and age.”

People end up in segregation for two reasons, said jail supervisor Phil Perrin, on Wednesday.

Either the prisoner poses a threat to other inmates or staff, or they pose a threat to themselves and need to be closely monitored.

On average, prisoners who end up in solitary are only there for a day and a half, he said.

“Normally, the longest stay is a month,” said Perrin.

“It’s a rarity if it’s more than that.”

Perrin would not speak to individual cases, like Nehass’.

“Segregation is definitely not the place we like to keep people, unless there are no other alternatives left,” he said.

Before coming north, Perrin worked in segregation at a federal institution.

“We had people in segregation for years at a time, because there’s just no other place to manage them,” he said.

“And often, their behaviour does get worse.”

When prisoners are stuck in solitary for long periods, “we worry about things like sensory deprivation,” said Perrin.

“So, for some, we allow them to have yard and gym time with other inmates so they have that interaction.”

Prisoners with high needs and high risks get more resources, added Perrin.

A psychiatrist visits the correctional centre weekly.

Nurses working with the inmates decide who needs to see the psychiatrist and triage the cases, he said.

“But if the psychiatrists meets with an inmate and basically says it’s just a behavioural problem and not a mental health issue then you’re rather limited on what treatment options you can consider.

“They might not have a diagnosable condition warranting treatment, and we can’t send them if they’re not prepared to go there.”

The only time a prisoner can be treated involuntarily is if they’re deemed “mentally incompetent,” said Perrin.

And this is rare at the jail, he said.

When Nehass was sentenced, the judge ruled he was a troubled young man who needed treatment.

Sitting in solitary, Nehass claims he isn’t getting much help.

“Segregation is based on security — it’s not based on treatment,” said Perrin.

“You can’t force treatment on somebody.”

However, federal law states that for prisoners who end up in solitary confinement, the jail must come up with a plan to reintegrate those inmates, “ either through some kind of negotiated return, or a transfer to another institution or transfer to a special-needs unit.”

Prisoners’ cases at the Whitehorse jail are reviewed weekly, said Perrin.

And the jail offers a number of programs for inmates, including substance-abuse and anger-management programs and courses in traditional parenting and cognitive skills.

Mental Health nurses also work with inmates, but only until the conditions set by the judge are completed, said Perrin.

“Then it no longer falls under Justice,” he said.

“We’re only resourced to deal with those cases, then we might refer them to the department of Health.”

Nehass needs help, said Rissanen.

“He’s always considered himself a bad kid,” she said.

“But when you’re young, if you’re just told you have a chance, things would have been different.”

Nehass needs someone who’ll take the time and listen to him, said Rissanen.

“He needs someone he can confide in.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Hans Gatt wins inaugural 2021 Yukon Journey

The Yukon Journey, a 255-mile race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse, kicked off on Feb. 24

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

Most Read