NDP Leader Liz Hanson says the longer the Yukon government takes to implement the 40 recommendations made after the inspection of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, the worse things there will get. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

NDP decries lack of ‘urgency’ in governments response to WCC inspection

‘The reality is that the longer this goes on the less humane our prison system is in the territory’

NDP Leader Liz Hanson says the Yukon government is acting with no urgency when it comes to implementing the 40 recommendations made in the inspection of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC).

Hanson said inspector David Loukidelis’s report on the Yukon’s only jail is well-researched, has depth, and includes actions the government could take right away.

“I know they like process, we’re pretty clear about that. We can process things to death,” Hanson said. “But the reality is that the longer this goes on the less humane our prison system is in the territory.”

Hanson said she expects the report, which inspects mental health care, the use of segregation, to be a focus when the legislative assembly sits starting on Oct. 1.

Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee has promised Loukidelis will appear before the legislature in the fall.

Hanson said she expects the NDP to focus on administrative changes that would make the most immediate change.

“It comes down to administrative decisions that effectively create this prison within a prison with people who are not trained to work with people who present with complex mental health issues.”

The inspector has recommended the Corrections Act and regulations be amended to provide a clearer, more comprehensive framework to govern use of separate confinement at the WCC.

“This is necessary even if the substantive changes recommended in this report are not implemented,” the report says.

The laws and policies should be amended “to ensure consistency in the grounds for administrative separate confinement, notably respecting the nature and degree of risk that must be present before administrative separate confinement may be used,” it says.

Loukidelis calls for the removal of mental illness as grounds for placing someone in any form of separate confinement, and for a better review process.

In the government’s response it says that many of those recommendations are “under consideration.” Many of the ones that have been “accepted” go on to say that the government is working on “implementation strategies.”

That frustrates Hanson.

“There’s no sense of urgency in any of the government’s response,” she said. “(They say) we’re going to set up an implementation committee.”

There are some simple things the government could take action on, she said.

Loukidelis scrutinized the outdoor yards at the WCC. The small spaces are surrounded by three-storey-high cinderblock walls with mesh on top.

“These spaces can best be described as enclosures, not the outdoors. Time spent in the yard provides some fresh air, but by no stretch does it qualify as time outside,” the report says.

Following through on the recommendation that inmates have actual time outside is something the government could do right away, Hanson said.

“Take simple steps to show that you get the need to have a more humane system.”

Hanson said she’s concerned about the lack of specialized training guards have been getting.

When it comes to dealing with inmates with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, one WCC case manager is trained to provide FASD training to all correctional officers.

This training has only been offered once.

“What is the turnover up there?” Hanson said.

Hanson said she is sad that the government’s public response to the report hasn’t included more about FASD. Loukidelis makes a series of recommendations related to FASD. He calls on the jail to ensure that appropriate FASD-related services and supports are provided at the WCC and that staff are appropriately trained. In both cases the government has accepted the recommendations and plans to “establish an implementation plan.”

“When you’re dealing with someone who has FASD, consequences, the kind of behavioural mechanisms you put in at the jail, they can’t be followed by someone who has a permanent brain injury,” Hanson said.

“And guess what? Where do they end up? In segregation.”

For its part, the Yukon Party says it is still reviewing Loukidelis’s report.

In a statement, justice critic Brad Cathers said the Yukon Party “will monitor the progress of implementation of the government’s commitments and await details on clear timelines for implementation.

“We will press the Minister and this government to be open and transparent by ensuring that regular and detailed progress reports on the implementation of these commitments are made public.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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