Separate Confinement of Youth in Custody

Authority Burnaby Youth Custody Services Centre

Executive Summary

We received complaints from two youth custody residents who believed they were being unfairly separately confined. Following our investigation, we raised concerns that the Office of the Provincial Director and the Burnaby Youth Custody Services Centre (the centre) did not appear to be acting in accordance with the statutory and policy requirements for the separate confinement of youth. We noted that the centre had not evaluated whether separate confinement continued to be necessary for the two complainants, nor did it document any consideration of alternatives to separate confinement to address any safety or security issues.

As a result of our investigation, the Office of the Provincial Director agreed to address the matters of procedural unfairness we identified. The Provincial Director provided an overview of the steps being taken to ensure that the Office of the Provincial Director, and the centre, would comply with the Youth Custody Regulation and the Manual of Operations for youth custody programs going forward. The two youth received a letter of apology.

Investigation Details

Two youth custody residents contacted us, concerned that the centre had been improperly housing them in separate confinement for longer than was permitted. The records we obtained through our investigation indicated that Complainant A was separately confined for a total of approximately 170 hours and Complainant B for 185 hours.

The Youth Custody Regulation permits the centre to separately confine a youth for up to 72 hours if all other means of dealing with a safety or security issue have been exhausted, or are not reasonable. Any separate confinement longer than 72 hours must be authorized in writing by the Provincial Director of Youth Custody. Given the potentially severe impact of separate confinement on youth, legal requirements and policy directives have been developed to provide safeguards and limit the use of separate confinement.

When using separate confinement, custody centres and youth justice staff must comply with the Regulation and the procedural requirements in the Manual of Operations for Youth Custody Programs (the Manual).

Our investigation revealed a number of procedural flaws suggesting that both the centre and the Office of the Provincial Director had not acted in a procedurally fair way with respect to the separate confinement of the two complainants. In particular, the responses and records we received from the centre did not indicate that any alternative measures to separate confinement were considered or that separate confinement had continued to be necessary for the entire duration the youth were separately confined. In particular, we identified the following practice issues:

Section D. 6.04 of the Manual requires that upon the commencement of a separate confinement a senior youth supervisor must initiate a behaviour support plan to assist the youth’s reintegration to regular unit activities.

During our preliminary conversations with the centre, we were advised that behaviour support and reintegration plans were not created for the two complainants because the staff did not believe that the youth could handle long-term planning. We were also told that, due to challenges the centre was facing at that time, there were instances where it had determined that it was not practical, or possible, to comply with Section D of the Manual. The records we collected confirmed that, indeed, no behaviour support planning documentation had been completed for the complainants and the centre had not complied with the Manual.

The Youth Custody Regulation specifies that the Provincial Director must approve each consecutive period of separate confinement beyond 72 hours. Section D. 6.10 of the Manual provides direction as to when the Provincial Director may extend a separate confinement beyond 72 hours, and specifies that the youth’s individual circumstances and subsequent reviews must be considered when making that decision.

During our review of the records we identified an email from centre staff to the Office of the Provincial Director requesting approval to extend at least seven individual separate confinement orders for various youth on separate confinement, including the two complainants. The records indicated that the approval to separately confine the two youth who made complaints to our office beyond 72 hours was sent less than 30 hours after the commencement of each youth’s separate confinement. The request did not specify the length of time for which the extensions were sought or provide any reasons that would explain why the separate confinements continued to be necessary. Further, the Provincial Director’s approval was made without the benefit of any of the future required reviews and did not clarify the time frames or set a reassessment date as required by the Manual.

Section 13(2) of the Youth Custody Regulation limits the amount of time that a young person may be separately confined and specifies that a youth may not be separately confined for longer than is necessary to address the reasons for the separate confinement.

As it did not appear that the centre had made behaviour support plans to support the youth in their reintegration to regular unit activities, and because it appeared that BYCS staff had, with the support of the Provincial Director, predetermined that the youth should continue to be separately confined without following the steps required, we had concerns that the centre was not following a fair process. This was also concerning to us because separate confinement – isolating a youth from their peers – is an extraordinary measure that may significantly affect the well-being of a youth and demands particularly careful consideration.

It was unclear whether there continued to be a basis for the separate confinements that would meet the criteria in the Regulation. The records indicated that although the two complainants cooperated with the centre and agreed to behave, their separate confinements were continued. Additionally, they were given behaviour expectations to meet before they would be released from separate confinement that were not relevant to the separate confinement criteria in the Regulation.

Investigation Outcome

We asked the Provincial Director to review the concerns we raised and provide a summary of the steps that would be taken to correct practices within the centre as well as at the Office of the Provincial Director to ensure compliance with both the Regulation and the Manual. The Provincial Director agreed and in response, we were provided written confirmation of the practice shifts that were underway within the centre and at the Provincial Director’s Office to support adherence to the Manual and the Regulation. Specifically, the Provincial Director outlined the following:

  • a new template form for reviews of separate confinements would be developed for staff use;
  • all separate confinement paperwork would be reviewed for accuracy and timeliness at the daily supervisory staff meetings;
  • the Office of the Provincial Director was developing a new prescribed template to incorporate feedback from health care professionals for the purposes of informing the Provincial Director’s decisions regarding whether to extend separate confinement over 72 hours;
  • random audits would be conducted to ensure all youth are advised of the reasons why they are on separate confinement and what is expected of them regarding their behaviour;
  • staff would adhere to policy as it pertained to separate confinement and that letters of Expectation/Discipline would be forwarded to those not meeting policy expectations regarding reviews and/or documentation with regard to separate confinement of youth;
  • the Office of the Provincial Director would act in accordance with the Manual when authorizing continued separate confinement of youth for more than 72 hours; and
  • apology letters would be provided to the complainants and other youth who were improperly separately confined.

Most importantly, we received confirmation that the Office of the Provincial Director and the centre would ensure full compliance with the Regulation and the Manual when using separate confinement in the future. Based on the Provincial Director’s commitments and the apology letters that were sent to the youth, we concluded that the two complaints were settled. Given that the issues raised through these complaints were significant, we remain interested in the steps being taken to address them and will continue to monitor the use of separate confinement at the Burnaby Youth Custody Services Centre.

Names in our case summaries have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. This case study can also be found in the 2016-2017 Annual Report.

Category Children and Youth, Corrections
Type Case Summary
Fiscal Year 2016
Location The Lower Mainland