A Saskatchewan woman who was held in solitary confinement in B.C. for a total of 3½ years has issued an emotional plea to end the practice in Canada's prisons.
BobbyLee Worm, 26, has just settled a lawsuit filed against Corrections Canada on her behalf by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. But because of a confidentiality clause in the agreement, neither Worm nor the BCCLA was able to release the terms of the settlement publicly.
Worm said she sued Corrections Canada to help herself and others facing the punishment of the two-metre by three-metre room known as "the hole."
'Solitary confinement does one thing. It breaks a person's will to live.' —Former federal inmate BobbyLee Worm
"It's hard for me to be here today, hard for me to talk about what happened to me in prison," Worm said Wednesday morning in Vancouver.
"Solitary confinement does one thing. It breaks a person's will to live. Being locked up like that you feel like you're losing your mind. The only contact with another human is through a food slot. Days turn into nights and into days and you don't know if you'll ever get out."
Worm said she had a traumatic childhood and ended up in prison for robbery and assault at the age of 19.
"I'm ashamed of things I did in the past. I understand I did a crime and deserved to do time for that," she said.
But Worm said she didn't deserve to spend 3½ years of a six-year sentence in solitary confinement as punishment for fighting with other inmates and threatening prison staff.
"Prison was a hard place. There was a lot of violence. The more time I spent in solitary confinement the more trouble I had in prison. They told me solitary confinement would help me but it made me even worse."
BCCLA backed lawsuit
Worm was held at the Fraser Valley Institution, east of Vancouver, where she served a six-year sentence for several offences including robbery. The lawsuit alleged that while in solitary confinement, also known as segregation, Worm spent 23 hours a day confined to her cell, deprived of meaningful human contact, for months at a time.
Shortly after Worm filed her lawsuit, Corrections Canada ended what it called the "management protocol," which involved extensive use of solitary for problem female prisoners.
Grace Pastine, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said there are now some restrictions on the use of solitary confinement, but an average of 800 inmates a day in Canada are being subjected to this type of punishment.
Pastine said the practice should be banned altogether, except in unusual circumstances for short periods of time.
"It causes all sorts of long-term health effects, can lead to psychosis, suicidal behaviour. Individuals who are placed in solitary confinement are at much greater risk of self-harm than those who are not," said Pastine.