Solitary confinement can be deadly for mentally ill inmates, watchdog says

Canada’s prison system faces a slew of issues, including the treatment of inmates with mental health issues, the high rate of Aboriginal incarceration and the overuse of solitary confinement, the country’s chief correctional watchdog says.

Canada’s prison system faces a slew of issues, including the treatment of inmates with mental health issues, the high rate of Aboriginal incarceration and the overuse of solitary confinement, the country’s chief correctional watchdog says.

“We know that the use of segregation has a different impact on mentally-ill individuals than people without mental health problem,” said Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, in an interview.

“We called for a prohibition for individuals with known psychiatric disorders.”

The Correctional Investigator of Canada has the power to investigate complaints and make recommendations to address systemic issues within federal prison.

Sapers will give a public lecture Thursday night and a similar lecture to local lawyers and judges Friday.

The Yukon is facing some of the same issues Sapers has been looking at.

Since 2007 the News has regularly reported on the use of solitary confinement, especially in the case of Michael Nehass who has had lengthy stays in segregation raising concerns about his mental health.

Nehass is awaiting sentencing for a 2011 assault in Watson Lake. The case has been delayed by Nehass firing several of his lawyers and a charter application challenging his living condition at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

More recently an elderly man with dementia, Titus Charlie, was charged with assault in December 2015.

It took over three months for Charlie to be released from jail after the Yukon Review Board deemed him unfit to stand trial and ordered his placement in a group home. His lawyer at the time pointed out Charlie had no place in a jail because he has a cognitive impairment and had previously been found unfit to stand trial.

Segregation can be deadly for people with mental health issues.

Sapers said his office reviewed 30 suicides that took places in federal penitentiaries over the past three years. Roughly half happened while the inmates were in segregation.

“Every one of them had a known mental health condition,” he said. “We believe segregation can be very dangerous for some people.”

The correctional system needs to adapt to inmates with special needs, Sapers said.

Inmates with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for example aren’t able to follow prison routines, he said.

A study released in April showed 17.5 per cent of people in Yukon’s jail had FASD, compared to one per cent of the overall population.

Sapers also touched on the issue of programming.

Convicted inmates will sometimes choose to have a longer sentence to be sent to a federal penitentiary to receive federally funded programs, considered better than what’s offered at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

But Sapers cautioned against assuming those federal programs will automatically be delivered.

“While we have some very good programs, we have a very uneven experience in terms of those programs being delivered,” he said.

Some programs are not consistently available and the ones that get delivered have long waiting lists.

Correctional services deal with a lot of social problems that could have been dealt with before the person reached the system, Sapers acknowledged.

“Many issues in corrections could be avoided if we had better interventions and better strategies further upstream,” he said.

“I can’t think of anything less efficient or more expensive than dealing with people’s mental health issues once they’re convicted in a criminal court.”

The talk is part of the Maddison Chair in Northern Justice created in honour of the late Harry Maddison, a former Yukon Supreme Court justice who spent 30 years on the bench.

Howard Sapers will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Yukon College’s lecture hall.

-with files from Ashley Joannou

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

During our recent conversation, John Nicholson showed me snapshots of his time working on the Yukon riverboats 70 years ago. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: Yukon man relives the riverboat days after seven decades

John Nicholson took summer work on Yukon steamers in the 1950s

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. At its April 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved a zoning change to allow a drive-thru at 107 Range Road. Developers sought the change to build a Dairy Queen there. (Submitted)
Drive-thru approved by Whitehorse city council at 107 Range Road

Rezoning could pave the way for a Dairy Queen

xx
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for April 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

Most Read