BCCLA wants end to ‘cruel’ solitary detention of women
A lawsuit has been filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association on behalf of BobbyLee Worm, a 24-year-old prisoner at Fraser Valley Institution with a long history of physical and sexual abuse. (CTV)
B.C.’s civil liberties watchdog has filed suit against the federal government, calling for an end to the practice of holding female prisoners in solitary confinement for months or even years at a time.
The suit was filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday by the BC Civil Liberties Association on behalf of BobbyLee Worm, a 24-year-old prisoner at Fraser Valley Institution with a long history of physical and sexual abuse.
Worm has been in jail since 2006 and has served the majority of her time in segregation because of fights with other prisoners, according to the lawsuit.
“During her imprisonment, she has shown significant signs of psychological deterioration attributable to being segregated for an extended period of time,” the suit alleges.
The claim contends that extended periods of isolation can lead to psychosis, depression, hallucination, paranoia, aggression and suicidal behaviour.
“The harsh and punitive effects of prolonged solitary confinement are such that many of the rehabilitative functions of incarceration, expected to be fulfilled at the time of a prisoner’s sentencing, are frustrated by the confinement,” the suit says.
According to the 2005 Management Protocol for Women Offenders, women can be placed in long-term solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day if they’re identified as a safety risk; no such program exists for male prisoners. All of the women currently being held on the protocol are First Nations.
“The decision to place a woman on the Management Protocol is made without the benefit of an independent decision-maker, and there is no judicial oversight on its use, making it particularly susceptible to abuse,” BCCLA lawyer Carmen Cheung said.
In a release Monday, the BCCLA’s litigation director Grace Prastine said that prolonged solitary confinement can have a “devastating” impact on women who have been abused in the past.
“Human rights bodies have found the practice of prolonged solitary confinement to be either torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Pastine said.
The suit asks for the court to find that the Management Protocol is in breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also asks that the government pay damages to Worm for breaches of her charter rights and unlawful imprisonment.
“No one should have to endure the barbaric conditions of prolonged solitary confinement,” BCCLA lawyer Robert Janes said.
“The extreme treatment Ms. Worm has suffered violates her constitutional rights, particularly her rights to liberty and security of the person, and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.”
The BCCLA is not the first watchdog to cry foul on the Management Protocol. In 2009, federal Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers recommended an immediate end to the practice.
“The so-called Management Protocol for women offenders is anything but progressive or effective corrections. In fact, it is a step in the wrong direction,” Sapers wrote in his annual report on Canada’s prison system.
“I have very serious concerns about the impact of this form of harsh and punitive confinement on the mental health and emotional well-being of these women. They need intervention and treatment, not deprivation.”
In its response to Sapers’ recommendation, the Correctional Service of Canada said that it is looking at alternatives to the Management Protocol.
But the government body also stressed that, “The decision to place a woman on the Management Protocol is not one that is taken lightly or without just cause.”