Sask. woman sues over solitary confinement

A Saskatchewan woman serving time in a British Columbia prison has filed a lawsuit over her continued segregation in solitary confinement.

A Saskatchewan woman serving time in a B.C. prison has filed a lawsuit, supported by a civil liberties group, over her continued segregation in solitary confinement.

BobbyLee Worm, also known as Bobbi Lee Worm, is one of several female prison inmates spending years in solitary confinement at the discretion of prison authorities, a situation the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says is unconstitutional.

Worm's lawsuit alleges she has been kept in solitary confinement at the Fraser Valley Correctional Institution for a total of almost four years. Worm is serving a six-year, four-month sentence for robbery and assault.

Grace Pastine, a lawyer with the association, said Worm's case is being used to reform what she calls an "extremely problematic" system that's increasingly used as a means to maintain order in correctional facilities.

"She has been confined to approximately a seven by ten-foot concrete cell. She's been deprived of most meaningful human contact for up to 23 hours a day," Pastine told CBC News on Tuesday.

"We don't think solitary confinement should be used as a tool for housing prisoners long-term at all," she said, adding the current system violates human rights and does not encourage rehabilitation.

The association is targeting the so-called management protocol system, which gives prison authorities the discretion to impose segregation indefinitely.

Pastine noted there are no limits on how long a prisoner can be kept in solitude under the protocol. While there are reviews of the segregation every two to three months, there isn't independent or judicial oversight.

According to a Correctional Service of Canada policy report, administrative segregation should be used as a last resort. The report cited less-restrictive alternatives such as voluntary lock-up, conflict resolution or counselling as options to be considered before implementing long-term segregation.

Pastine said currently, female prisoners are expected to "earn" their way out of long-term solitary confinement, but there is no objective criteria for determining when segregation must end.

The management protocol is different than disciplinary segregation laws, which permit inmates to be isolated for up to 45 days. Pastine said the association wants that limit applied to all cases of solitary confinement.

"We are asking the courts for a lot," she said. "Ideally, what we hope the court will do is find that no one — no man, no woman — should be subject to these lengthy periods of solitary confinement with no limitations and no judicial oversight."

Worm, 24, began serving her time in June 2006.

She committed several gas-station robberies with an accomplice, using a butcher knife, a metal bar and a shank to threaten the employees.

Worm's application for parole was denied.

According to Parole Board documents, Worm has not shown any remorse toward her victims. The documents also note she was persistently violent while in prison. 

She has been involved in a number of altercations with both inmates and staff, stabbing another prisoner in the face with a pen, threatening to slit a correctional officer's throat and throwing a television on another victim's chest, and later kicking and stomping on her.

Pastine said that while there were some instances when it was beneficial for Worm to be removed from the general prison population, there needs to be a time-limit for segregation.

Worm has a history of extreme physical and sexual abuse, a history of gang ties and was addicted to drugs at an early age, but she is eager to be involved in more education and rehabilitation programs, Pastine said.

"She has told us that being in solitary confinement was deeply traumatic. She told us on more than one occasion she completely lost hope."

Worm is scheduled to be released in October 2012 but is eligible for another release review this May.

With files from CBC's David Shield