Troubled man kept in solitary confinement

Michael Nehass is pale. There are bags under his eyes. Sometimes, he has trouble breathing. The 23-year-old First Nations man is in solitary…

Michael Nehass is pale.

There are bags under his eyes.

Sometimes, he has trouble breathing.

The 23-year-old First Nations man is in solitary confinement at the Whitehorse jail.

“We call it ‘The Hole,’” said a Whitehorse Correctional Centre guard, who wished to remain anonymous.

“Guys are moved there if they misbehave,” said the guard.

“But usually they’re only in there two or three days.”

Nehass has been locked up alone in the tiny dimly lit concrete room for three months.

“It affects me psychologically,” he said.

“Sometimes, I break down.”

How big is the room?

Nehass dropped the phone and paced it off.

“It’s five of my feet, by eight of them,” he said.

There’s a bed, a toilet and a security camera.

There’s no window.

Inmates are supposed to get at least an hour of fresh air daily, said the guard.

But Nehass doesn’t always get it.

“I’ve gone a week without fresh air,” he said.

“The jail is understaffed,” said the guard.

“And when there’s not enough staff (Nehass) doesn’t even get to shower.

“It’s a total violation of basic human rights.”

There are two solitary confinement cells at the dilapidated Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

And if another inmate ends up in The Hole, Nehass has someone to talk to.

But if guards hear them talking, they demand silence, said the guard.

“They don’t like (Nehass) because he’s troubled and freaks out.

“And once he’s pissed them off, they make his life a living hell.”

Nehass ended up in The Hole because he threatened a guard.

“But I’ve been three months, charge-free,” he said.

The law clearly states segregation is only to be used as a safety measure for inmates who would cause problems, said John Howard Society executive director Craig Jones.

“It is not to be used as a punishment,” he said.

“But there is a widespread culture of non-compliance with this law.”

Guards don’t always follow the rules, he said.

Nehass isn’t even allowed to clean his cell, said the correctional centre guard.

He has to be supervised when using cleaning products. And with the shortage of staff, it rarely happens.

“It gets dirty in here,” said Nehass, who has gone weeks with the same sheets.

“But I do get three meals a day, and that’s a plus.”

The cell gets hot and stuffy in the summer, he added.

If the cell beside him is empty, meal delivery is usually the only time Nehass sees another person.

“I’ve gone up to a month without talking to anyone,” he said.

It’s not by choice.

The cell has no TV and no radio.

“I just pace,” said Nehass.

Every Thursday guards are supposed to meet to discuss moving Nehass from segregation.

Instead, they decide to let him have things, like a pen or a bag of chips from the canteen, said Nehass.

In the court ruling four years ago, Nehass was described as having a “very troubled upbringing involving many upheavals including the death of his mother.”

He had multiple caregivers and placements over the years, and lived on the streets of Whitehorse, said the sentencing judge.

“Mr. Nehass has severe alcohol- and drug-abuse problems. There is reason to believe that he suffers from conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“In short, Mr. Nehass is a seriously disturbed youth in desperate need of treatment.

“However, at this point Mr. Nehass presents such a danger to himself and others that the only option is to provide the required treatment in a secure setting.”

Nehass isn’t getting treatment, said the guard.

“They don’t offer him anything.

“Nobody deserves to get treated like that.”

According to federal law, if an inmate ends up in solitary confinement, it is critical that jail workers come up with “a creative and realistic plan for the reintegration of that inmate,” said Jones.

“Either through some kind of negotiated return, or a transfer to another institution or transfer to a special needs unit.

“What we would like to see, in the cases of non-voluntary segregation, is the development of creative alternatives to segregation that ensure that inmates can get the resources they need for the kinds of psychological and other problems they have.”