B.C. Ombudsperson Slams Province's Handling of Youth Solitary Confinement

B.C. Ombudsperson slams province's failure to address youth solitary confinement, calling it an "embarrassment" and urging urgent reform to protect vulnerable youth, especially Indigenous and racialized girls.

Sakchi Khandelwal
Updated On
New Update
B.C. Ombudsperson Slams Province's Handling of Youth Solitary Confinement

B.C. Ombudsperson Slams Province's Handling of Youth Solitary Confinement

The B.C. Ombudsperson, Jay Chalke, has strongly criticized the provincial government's handling of youth solitary confinement, calling it a "cause for embarrassment."

In a scathing report, Chalke stated that the Ministry of Children and Family Development has failed to fully implement 23 of the 26 recommendations made in a 2021 report aimed at protecting vulnerable youth in custody from the risks of prolonged isolation.

The 2021 report, titled "Alone: The Prolonged and Repeated Isolation of Youth in Custody," found alarming instances of youth being separately confined for extended periods, with some isolated for up to 78 days. The report also highlighted that the confinement disproportionately affected Indigenous and racialized girls. Between 2017 and 2019, 110 youth were separately confined 307 times at two youth custody centers, with the average confinement time ranging from 36 to 108 hours.

Why this matters: The Ombudsperson's criticism sheds light on the urgent need for reform in the treatment of youth in custody. The failure to address the issue of prolonged solitary confinement has serious implications for the mental health and well-being of vulnerable young individuals, particularly those from Indigenous and racialized communities.

Chalke expressed deep disappointment in the ministry's lack of progress, stating that the inaction continues to expose these youth to significant harm and has damaged public trust. Despite the ministry's readjusted timeline, Chalke noted that it is still not meeting its targets, with 15 of the 26 recommendations seeing no movement from the ministry.

While the ministry has implemented some recommendations, such as installing a body scanner to detect contraband and shutting down the Independent Observation Unit, Chalke emphasized that youth continue to be separately confined for long periods. The current Minister of Children and Family Development, Grace Lore, acknowledged the issue as a priority and committed to bettering conditions for youth in custody. However, she did not provide a specific timeline for further progress.

In response to the Ombudsperson's criticism, Minister Lore stated, "My expectation is that all children in the province's care, including those in custody, should be safe, cared for, and connected." She also noted that ongoing legal action prevents the ministry from reporting publicly on some of its efforts to address the issue.

The ministry is currently facing a class-action lawsuit related to alleged Charter violations regarding youth solitary confinement dating back to 1984. Despite the legal challenges, Chalke maintains that the ministry must urgently address the delay in implementing the recommendations to ensure more humane treatment of youth in custody and restore public trust in the system.

Key Takeaways

  • BC Ombudsperson criticizes govt's handling of youth solitary confinement as "embarrassment"
  • The 2021 report found alarming instances of prolonged isolation, disproportionately affecting Indigenous/racialized girls
  • Ministry failed to fully implement 23 of 26 recommendations to protect vulnerable youth in custody
  • Ongoing legal action prevents the ministry from reporting publicly on efforts to address the issue
  • Ombudsperson urges ministry to urgently address delay in implementing recommendations