Inmates kept in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre’s secure living unit experience conditions mirroring segregation but are not counted towards official segregation numbers, a former inmate claims. (Yukon News file)

WCC misleading public on number of inmates in segregation, former inmate to argue in court

Inmates in jail’s secure living unit kept in conditions mirroring segregation, Darryl Sheepway claims

The Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) is intentionally misleading the public on how many inmates are kept in segregation-like conditions, using administrative sleight-of-hand to obstruct the real number, a former inmate is preparing to argue in court.

Darryl Sheepway, who was convicted of second-degree murder in January for killing 25-year-old Christopher Brisson in 2015, spent nearly two years at the WCC following his arrest in August 2016.

He filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court in February seeking judicial review of the decision by officials at the WCC to keep him in what the document described as “separate and solitary confinement.” The petition also seeks to have portions of the Yukon’s Corrections Act, as well as several policies and regulations used at the WCC, found to be in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The petition is set to be heard in January 2019.

Sheepway’s lawyers, Yukon Legal Aid’s Vincent Larochelle and Baird Makinson, submitted their written arguments to court Nov. 28.

The 35-page document claims, among other things, that some WCC inmates, while not being held in the segregation unit, face segregation-like conditions when placed into another one — the secure living unit, more commonly known as the SLU.

In an affidavit sworn Nov. 15, Sheepway says that the SLU, where he was held the majority of his time at the WCC, is a “mirror image” of the segregation unit, with “minimal” differences such as SLU cells containing television and the unit itself containing “limited exercise equipment and tables.”

While held in the SLU, Sheepway claims he was allowed out of his cell for somewhere between two to five hours a day, during which he had “no meaningful contact with other inmates” until after he filed his petition, at some points going for months without any contact at all.

“My mental state has significantly deteriorated while at the WCC,” Sheepway, who has since been moved to a federal penitentiary, he says in the affidavit.

“Being segregated and confined created feelings of despair and hopelessness … It has disillusioned me about the judicial system.”

The written arguments claim that while in the SLU, Sheepway “had no hope of being removed from segregation, had no form of meaningful review, let alone independent review, nor access to counsel.”

“In the Petitioner’s respectful submission, it is clear that placement in the SLU is a form of segregation,” the document says, noting that inmates in the SLU are separated from the general population, spend significant amounts of time alone in their cells, have “significantly diminished access” to programming and have no access to the outdoors.

Those held in the SLU, however, are not included in the WCC’s published tallies of inmates held in “separate confinement,” the document claims, noting that, despite Sheepway’s evidence, WCC’s separate confinement statistics for 2016 and 2017 report that no inmate, in either year, spent more than 15 days in separate confinement.

“It is the Petitioner’s position that, behind the seemingly innocuous label of the Secure Living Unit placement, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre has in fact held inmates in conditions which oscillate between segregation and solitary confinement, while at the same time refusing to apply that label to its decisions,” the document says.

“Implementing policies which allow WCC to hold inmates in de facto segregation and separate confinement, while at the same time refusing to apply such labels to the state of affairs is not a solution to the overuse of administrative segregation.

“On the contrary, it exacerbates the issue, by giving the public the impression that segregation is not a Yukon problem, thereby delaying the time when a call to action is made. Meanwhile, inmates at the WCC continue to be administratively segregated on a routine basis with little to no procedural safeguards.”

Two pieces of the WCC’s legal framework are enabling officials to continually place inmates in the SLU, and, by extent, segregation, for extended periods of time, the document argues — Reg. 21 of the corrections regulations, which allows a “person in charge” to separate an inmate from general population for an indefinite period, and policy B 4.6 of the adult custody policy manual, which deals with, among other things, when inmates can be placed in the SLU.

Reg. 21 offers inmates no meaningful form of review of their confinement, the document argue, and effectively makes the “person in charge” prosecutor, judge, jury and appellate court.” At the same time, the document claims, policy B 4.6 allows inmates to be placed in the SLU for reasons including “risk, or perceived risk, to the safety, security and good order of the correctional centre” and “bed management” reasons.

Both of them, the arguments claim, and “deprive individuals of their liberty interest, security of person and right to life in a manner which is overbroad and inconsistent with the rules of procedural fairness,” thereby breaching inmates’ section 7 Charter rights.

The written arguments ask the court to declare both Reg. 21 and Policy B 4.6 “of no force” under the Charter, on the grounds that they are inconsistent with the Constitution, and because they breach section 7 of the Charter.

They also ask the court to make the finding that segregation harms inmates both mentally and physically, that prolonged segregation makes inmates more dangerous, that placement in the SLU is a form of segregation, and that placement in the SLU may amount to solitary confinement.

The WCC has not yet filed a reply.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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