The Yukon government’s recent settlement of four human rights complaints against the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) isn’t so much a finding of fault than something that helps pave the way for improvements, says the territory’s deputy assistant minister of justice.
On July 24, the Yukon Human Rights Commission publicly released a copy of a settlement it had reached with the territorial government and four complainants, all former inmates of the WCC, in May of this year.
The settlement agreement includes promises of reform from the Yukon government on systemic issues including access to mental health services, the use of segregation and separate confinement and improving services for First Nations inmates.
In an interview July 25, deputy assistant minister of justice Al Lucier, whose portfolio includes corrections, said he sees the settlement and its terms as “an opportunity for improvement.”
“The processes and policies that are in place (at the WCC) were always open to improvement, and I think that’s what this settlement finds, is that it finds a way to make those improvements,” he said.
One of the most significant terms of the settlement agreement is that the WCC will establish a forensic mental health unit within the facility. Lucier said that the unit, which will be led by a PhD clinical psychologist backed by a team of other staff members, will be treating inmates directly and will also be advising WCC management on best practices, something he described as a “pretty big step.”
“Currently, the majority of our services in respect of providing mental health services begin with the medical staff that are on-hand at the correctional facility…. The new model will see a move towards a more integrated mental health group led by certified psychologists that will work directly will the management team to inform them on certain decisions, and be able to then apply the mental health services that are required of (individual inmates) inside of the custodial corrections,” Lucier said.
The people that will make up the forensic mental health unit will not be corrections employees but employees of the Department of Health and Social Services.
Lucier said he doesn’t believe that unit will have a psychologist or psychiatrist on-call at all times.
Currently, the WCC has a psychiatrist, working on contract, who regularly visits the WCC to provide services to inmates. Lucier said it’s too early to say whether the unit will completely replace contract professionals, or if it will supplement them.
“I think initially, it will be a blend…. We want to normalize these services into what is more the mainstream of health provision services, which would be done through health and social services,” he said, adding that it will be up to that department on whether it will continue to use contracts or move towards having an “in-house” clinician model.
Lucier added that the unit is not meant to be a forensic mental health facility, and that the review board will still be sending people who require that level of care to Outside facilities.
Lucier also said that he doesn’t see the agreement’s terms to have all WCC employees receive human rights training, or for some employees to receive training on Gladue principles, as a condemnation. The training employees did receive, he said, as well as the acts that employees are governed by, are already “keeping within the constitution and within human rights.”
“We weren’t training contrary to human rights,” he said. “This (settlement) goes to say that there are opportunities to enhance that and we embrace that. It’s not a finding that we are at absolute fault of not having anything.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org