North·Exclusive

N.W.T. inmates spend months at a time in solitary

Two men serving time at the North Slave Correctional Centre spent more than 19 months out of the past two and a half years in ‘administrative segregation,’ according to records obtained by CBC.

2 men — one sentenced, one on remand — each spent over 19 months in isolation in past 2.5 years

Two men serving time at the North Slave Correctional Centre in Yellowknife spent more than 19 months out of the past two and a half years in ‘administrative segregation,’ according to records obtained by CBC. (GNWT)

Two men serving time at Yellowknife's North Slave Correctional Centre spent more than 19 months out of the past two and a half years in "administrative segregation," the Department of Justice's preferred term for solitary confinement.

One inmate on remand served a total of 576 days in isolation in 23 different stretches.

The other, who was serving a sentence at the time, was held in isolation for a total of 577 days, including one nearly eight-month stretch and another over seven months long.

The North Slave Correctional Centre recently came under fire from a judge for its treatment of one inmate.

Brooklyn Palmantier, 20, 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. 

The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on torture has called for a ban on all solitary confinement over 15 days.

20 inmates spent 3,000 nights alone

Documents obtained through Access to Information legislation show that between Jan. 1, 2012 and July 1, 2014, 20 inmates at the North Slave Correctional Centre spent almost 3,000 nights in administrative segregation.

An isolation cell at the North Slave Correctional Centre in Yellowknife. (CBC file photo)
It was the first time such a report had been generated, said a staffer with the justice department.

In the two-and-a-half year period, administrative segregation was used on 94 occasions; two thirds of the cases involved inmates being held on remand.

In several cases, inmates served long stretches at a time, including five-month and eight-month stretches. In others, inmates were in and out of the door for one night, four days, or three weeks.

In addition, the CBC found that:

  • one inmate held on remand served a total of 374 days in 14 stretches.
  • another sentenced inmate spent 18 months in segregation, including one eight-month stretch.
  • 14 inmates spent more than 30 days in isolation.

The N.W.T.'s Corrections Act allows prison wardens to hold inmates in segregation for up to 15 days.

Edward Snowshoe, top right, from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., committed suicide at a maximum-security federal prison in Edmonton after spending 162 days in segregation. (Effie Snowshoe)
A directive issued by the Department of Justice in March of 2011 says all cases of segregation shall be reviewed weekly.

The goal of segregation, the directive notes, is to "maintain the safety of the inmate, the security of the institution and the safety of the public."

"The Correction Service has an obligation to return the inmate to the general population… at the earliest opportunity," it notes.

The North Slave Correctional Centre was built to house about 180 inmates. 

About 90 per cent of inmates in the N.W.T.'s jails are aboriginal. 

Isolation linked to suicides

This morning, Canada's Corrections watchdog Howard Sapers will release a report on the high rate of suicide in Canada's prisons. 

On average, 10 inmates take their lives each year. About half of those involve prisoners who have been placed in segregation.

The report will look at the deaths of 30 inmates between 2011 and 2014. 

That won't include Edward Snowshoe, a 24-year-old man from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., who killed himself in 2010 in an Edmonton prison after spending 162 days in isolation. 

"If a dog owner had a dog locked up for that long, that owner would be charged for animal cruelty," his mother, Effie Bella Snowshoe, told the CBC earlier this year. 

Nunavut, Yukon unable to provide data

The CBC sought similar information on segregation in Nunavut's notorious Baffin Correctional Centre and Yukon's Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

Nunavut's justice department reported that inmates spent a total of 914 days in segregation during the two and a half year time frame, with an average stay of 10 days. On an average day, seven inmates at BCC are in segregation. No further details were provided.

Yukon's justice department said only that it "does not collect tabular information on administrative segregation." Rather, data is kept in logbooks, from which it would be too difficult to scrub individual names.

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