Pepper spray, segregation overused in provincial youth offender centres: Child advocate
CTV News Edmonton
Published Monday, September 9, 2019 11:49AM MDT
Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate has released a new report and a series of recommendations on the use of pepper spray and segregation in the province’s young offender centres.
The first recommendation suggests that pepper spray should only be used in exceptional circumstances, where there is imminent risk of serious physical harm to a person.
According to the report, Alberta is one of only four provinces in Canada that allows correctional officers to use pepper spray in young offender centres.
So far this year, there have been 19 incidents in the province where pepper spray was deployed, compared to 18 over the entire year in 2018, and 16 in 2017.
The report suggests training for staff in crisis prevention, de-escalation and behaviour management as an alternative to pepper spray.
The second recommendation is for an update to policies on the number of hours a young person can be segregated, or placed in isolation.
According to the report, segregating a youth can cause serious psychological, physical and developmental harm. The suggestion is that young people should not be segregated for more than four hours at a time.
One young offender described being in isolation for over 80 hours. The youth says the lights were kept on all the time and there was no mattress provided on the first night.
“It is alarming that segregation occurs in Alberta’s young offender centres without legislation to provide guidance and ensure accountability, transparency, and fairness,” said the report.
Several other provinces have legislation that limits the use of segregation.
The report also concludes that the current use of pepper spray and segregation contravenes the intentions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, which was ratified by Canada in 1991, and endorsed by Alberta in 1999.
The UNCRC applies to anyone under the age of 18, including anyone in custody.
The third recommendation is for an impartial complaints and review process for young people.
The report suggests that young people need to be able to challenge the decisions made about them without fear of repercussions.
The report calls for a multi-disciplinary committee with external stakeholders and to make sure young people have access to a supportive adult.
The final recommendation is for the Young Offender Branch to monitor and publicly report all incidents of pepper spray and segregation annually.
The report says its recommendations, if implemented, would keep staff in young offender centres accountable.
“Young people need to know that if they do wrong, they will face appropriate consequences, but it is important for them to trust that they will not be harmed by the adults taking care of them,” said Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff in the closing remarks of the report.
There are two young offender centres in Alberta, the Edmonton Young Offender Centre, and the Calgary Young Offender Centre. The report says there about 90 people in custody in each centre every day.