VICTORIA, B.C. – After a three-year investigation, Ombudsperson Jay Chalke has found the use of separate confinement for youth in B.C. custody centres “unjust, unsafe and disproportionately impacts Indigenous youth.”

In a report released on Tuesday called: The Prolonged and Repeated Isolation of Youth in Custody, Chalke makes the call for laws and practices to change regarding the province’s youth correction. Including setting a maximum of 22 hours on separate confinement, treating youth remanded while awaiting their trial or serving custodial sentencing more humanely, and strengthening oversight.

“It is clear in Canadian case law as well as international standards that having no time limits on the separate confinement of youth is unacceptable,” says Chalke.

“Our investigation found that young people were isolated for long periods and the ministry’s internal review processes did not limit these prolonged stays in separate confinement.”

The report released Tuesday focuses on records from 2017 to 2019 dealing with two of the province’s youth custody centres in Prince George and Burnaby. This found that the number of youth in custody had declined and instances of separate confinement had also declined.

Chalke’s report also noted that youth that had been separately confined had limited and inconsistent access to educational supports and mental health and cultural supports. The isolation rooms posed some safety risks for youth and staff. In some cases, communication with mental health supports had taken place through a door meal slot.

Minister of Children and Family Development, Mitzi Dean, says “Since forming government in 2017, we have made transforming the system of supports and addressing the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care a priority. We recognize the implications that separate confinement can have on a youth’s mental health and wellness, particularly for Indigenous and racialized youth who have been disproportionately affected by this practice.”

In the report, Chalke makes recommendations to the Ministry of Child and Development including making amendments to the Youth Custody Regulation to ban the use of separate confinement for more than 22 hours, limit the repeated use of confinement and change the separate confinement of youth who are more vulnerable to its harms like those under the age of 16 and those with complex mental health needs.

Chalke also suggests completing an independent review of force used in youth custody centres and developing and implementing trauma-informed alternatives to separate confinement that includes availability to educational, mental health, and cultural supports.

“We must do more to ensure that youth who come into contact with the justice system can stay connected to their families and their culture and feel a strong sense of belonging in all aspects of their lives,” says Dean.