North

Inspector recommends sweeping reforms at Whitehorse jail

Yukon's justice minister called for the inspection last year. It was to review the controversial case of Michael Nehass, a mentally-ill inmate who spent years at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, sometimes in segregation, which experts said worsened his condition.

Report focuses on mental wellness, use of segregation and needs of First Nations inmates

Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee speaks at a media briefing in Whitehorse on Wednesday. 'Yukoners must have confidence in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre operations. We need to do better, and we will,' she said. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

The Yukon government says it's committed to making changes at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) following a review of the jail completed earlier this year. 

But the government stopped short of endorsing all 40 recommendations included in David Loukidelis's inspection report on the jail, many of which would curtail the use of separate confinement.

Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee called for the inspection last year to review the controversial case of Michael Nehass, a mentally-ill inmate who spent years at correctional centre, sometimes in segregation, which experts said worsened his condition.

Loukidelis's inspection was also intended to look more broadly at "policies and practices" with respect to the mental health of inmates.

The government received the report in May, and presented it to the public on Wednesday. Officials said they agree with the "intent" of all 40 recommendations, although they could not yet commit to acting on all of them.

"Yukoners must have confidence in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre operations. We need to do better, and we will," said McPhee on Wednesday.

The 95-page report by inspector David Loukidelis includes 40 recommendations to improve conditions and services at the correctional centre. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Minimizing use of segregation

Among the 12 recommendations related to separate confinement:

  • A prohibition on segregating inmates for any more than 15 days in any one-year period;
  • No segregation of inmates on the grounds of mental illness; 
  • No segregating inmates solely for being a risk to the management and operation of WCC;
  • Better review process for decisions about when to use segregation;
  • Amend the Corrections Act to provide clearer framework to govern use of segregation.

The Yukon government has already accepted some of the recommendations about segregation, while others are listed in a government summary as "under consideration" — including the recommendation against allowing any inmate to be segregated for more than 15 days in a year.

"It becomes very difficult to put that finite date on the use of separate confinement. We have one facility in this jurisdiction to deal with incarcerated individuals ... there's not an opportunity to move them around, to share them between facilities. We have one facility," said Allan Lucier, assistant deputy minister of justice, at a media briefing on Wednesday. 

'It becomes very difficult to put that finite date on the use of separate confinement,' said Allan Lucier, assistant deputy minister of justice. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Focus on First Nations and mental wellness

Several of the 40 recommendations specifically focus on First Nations inmates. The report notes that First Nations individuals made up about 62 per cent of all admissions to the correctional centre in the year before March 2018. Just under 23 per cent of Yukon residents identify as Indigenous.

The over-representation of First Nation inmates at the correctional centre is 'striking,' according to the inspection report. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The report also notes many First Nation inmates — along with non-Indigenous inmates — deal with mental health challenges, including FASD, PTSD, psychological trauma, depression and addiction.

Among Loukidelis's recommends related to First Nations inmates:

  • Yukon government should appoint a full-time First Nations services officer at the correctional centre, to improve outcomes for inmates;
  • improve culturally-appropriate programs and services at at the correctional centre;
  • increase the number of elders to meet with inmates who wish to see them;
  • examine feasibility of using space for smudging and sweat facilities;
  • examine building more facilities like the Jackson Lake Healing Camp near Whitehorse. 

While the government has accepted most of those recommendations, some — including the possibility of a new treatment facility — are "under consideration."

CYFN backs report

Still, the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) is backing the report, and the government's commitment to act on many, if not all, of the recommendations.  

"Obviously, we want to ensure that some of the practices and service at WCC change immediately and I think we're working towards some of these immediate things that can change quickly," said Shadelle Chambers, executive director of the Council of Yukon First Nations, also at Wednesday's briefing.

'Obviously, we want to ensure that some of the practices and service at WCC change immediately,' said Shadelle Chambers, executive director of the Council of Yukon First Nations. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Other recommendations, not specific to First Nations' needs, include better services for inmates with FASD or addictions, and better training for staff to deal with mental-health issues. 

The government says it will now form an implementation group to look more closely at the recommendations and come up with plans to act on them. The group will include representation from First Nations governments.

now