The Northwest Territories Justice Department is reviewing policies at the North Slave Correctional Centre after a judge's comments that an inmate was treated inhumanely when he was left in a cell without clothing, a bed or running water.

Judge Bernadette Schmaltz's remarks came during a routine territorial court sentencing in Yellowknife earlier in March.

Brooklyn Palmantier, 20, pleaded guilty to three counts of resisting jail guards, uttering death threats and possessing a dangerous weapon. Palmantier admitted to threatening staff at the jail and making a weapon out of a razor blade.

He also testified that he was put in an isolation cell naked, shackled and handcuffed.

During an eight-month sentence, Palmantier spent 132 days in an isolation cell, including more than a month straight in September. He testified he wasn't offered a shower, was not given cutlery for his food and had no mattress, just vinyl blankets. 

In a written judgment issued March 7, the judge called Palmantier’s treatment “cruel and unusual,” saying he was shown a lack of respect and subject to “inhumane conditions.”  

"I cannot help but wonder how we can expect a person to behave in a respectful and civilized manner, when the state, the authorities, subject the person to inhumane and uncivilized conditions," she wrote. 

"I do not see how depriving someone of a mattress for seven days is a necessary or an appropriate response, and I do not accept the assertion that the mattress is made of a tear proof material, but "anything can be torn" justifies this," she wrote.

"Further, it was not necessary to deprive Mr. Palmantier of a shower or a toothbrush, and there is no relationship 
between an inmate being threatening or assaultive and turning off the water in an inmate's cell."

Schmaltz said Palmantier's treatment weighed heavily in her decision to sentence him to three months already served and a year’s probation.

The Department of Justice wouldn’t comment on Palmantier’s case, citing privacy rules, but Monty Bourke, who oversees corrections, confirmed Friday that the department is reviewing policies at the centre.

Not a form of punishment

He said clothing or bedding are not removed as a form of punishment, but inmates are assessed for security threats, and privileges can be adjusted if inmates are considered a threat to themselves.

"There are occasions where his clothing would be removed and he'd be provided a gown,” Bourke said.

Bourke said he's reviewing how high-risk offenders are managed, and he's asked staff to document everything that happens in the segregation area.

He said based on what he's seen staff are doing a good job, but it's too early in his review to tell if staff followed policy in the Palmantier case.

Last year, Bourke said, about a dozen inmates were sent to southern prisons. The territory has an agreement with Corrections Canada so inmates receiving longer sentences are transferred to federal prisons. A handful of inmates, including Palmantier, were moved because of the risks they posed. Bourke said the North Slave Correction Centre is not equipped to handle high-risk or volatile offenders.

Corrections

  • The original version of this story incorrectly spelled Monty Bourke's name.
    Mar 18, 2014 9:28 AM CT