BC Ombudsperson calls out inaction on isolation of youth in custody

The BC Ombudsperson is sounding the alarm about youth in custody who he says are endangered due to inaction by the province.

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says it’s time for the Ministry of Children and Family Development to step up, after only implementing three of the 26 recommendations put forward by the ombudsperson to protect youth who are isolated while in custody.

“The ministry’s inaction continues to expose vulnerable youth in its care to the risk of significant harm from separate confinement, especially Indigenous youth,” Chalke said. “The ministry must do better. MCFD’s failure to recognize the urgency of making these matters a priority is unacceptable and damaging to public trust.”

In 2021, B.C.’s Ombudsperson published its recommendations based on its findings of a report it published about the prolonged and repeated isolation of youth in custody.

Between 2017 and 2019, it found 110 youth were separately confined 307 times at the Burnaby Youth Custody Services Centre and Prince George Youth Custody Services Centre. The average time of confinement in Burnaby was between 36 and 108 hours, and was most commonly used to respond to youth who were self-injuring or suicidal.

The report also found these prolonged isolation periods were disproportionately experienced by female Indigenous youth, in response to self-injury.

“Youth in custody who are further isolated through separate confinement are placed very far from the sight of justice,” Chalke said.

After putting forth their recommendations, which included a legal limit on the time of confinement, prohibiting separate confinement for vulnerable youth and establishing an independant review body, Chalke says the ministry pushed for more time.

However, even with its readjusted timeline, Chalke says it’s still not meeting its targets.

“The ministry has so neglected this issue they’ve been unable, even to meet their slower pace of implementation,” he said.

“In my view this should be cause for embarrassment.”

Chalke says his report was meant to “give the people who administer the system an opportunity and a path forward to remedy that system.”

But 15 of the 26 recommendations he put forth still haven’t seen any movement from the ministry. He adds five are currently underway and three are partially implemented, in addition to the three that have been completed.

“It’s not clear why many of these recommendations have not yet been implemented,” Chalke said.

CityNews has reached out to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.