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22-hour cap on solitary confinement for youth in custody still too long: B.C. lawyer

Jennifer Metcalfe was horrified to hear a youth had spent a total of 78 straight days in isolation
An inmate in solitary confinement given lunch on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN/Lars Hagberg

The B.C. ombudsperson’s recommendations don’t go far enough to keep the province’s youth safe from the negative impacts of solitary confinement.

That’s according to executive director Jennifer Metcalfe of Burnaby-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, who said she was horrified to hear one youth had spent a total of 78 straight days in isolation.

Following Jay Chalke’s three-year investigation into B.C.’s two youth custody centres, the ombudsperson recommended a 22-hour cap on solitary confinement and a ban on using it for those younger than 16.

“There’s no reason at all for any youth to be subjected to this,” disagreed Metcalfe, a lawyer.

Chalke’s report found that despite an overall drop in the number of youths placed in confinement at Prince George and Burnaby detention centres the duration of isolations increased.

Indigenous youth also accounted for more than half of all solitary confinement incidents.

RELATED: B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Canadian health practitioners said youth who didn’t have mental health issues before being placed in isolation begin to exhibit symptoms from sensory deprivation.

“Consequences can be seen as early as 48 hours after segregation including the onset of mental illness, exacerbation of pre-existing mental illness and the development or worsening of physical symptoms,” the Canadian College of Family Physicians said in a statement.

Isolated youth are more likely to engage in self-harm or suicide, Metcalfe added.

“People in the criminal justice system are people who have experienced trauma. We need to focus on providing support services for them to be able to successfully reintegrate into society once they leave,” Metcalfe said.

At the minimum, the Canadian College of Family Physicians is asking the province to make daily medical assessments mandatory for youth in solitary confinement.

“The United Nations considers any stay over 15 days as torture,” it added.

RELATED: Review of federal prison isolation units ‘not adequate,’ new study says

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