Workers at the Okanagan Correctional Centre while it was still under construction in 2015.                                Western News file photo

Workers at the Okanagan Correctional Centre while it was still under construction in 2015. Western News file photo

Okanagan Incorrectional

Okanagan jail used solitary confinement as overflow: advocate

PART FOUR: Province denies allegations, but Prisoners’ Legal Services says it was part of ‘growing pains’ at jail

This is part four in our series, Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.’s newest jail. Click on the image to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.
This is part four in our series, Okanagan Incorrectional, delving into the first 14 months of operations at B.C.’s newest jail. Click on the image to go to our Okanagan Incorrectional Dashboard for a full index of the series (also available at the bottom of this article) and more information about the jail.

In the early days of the Okanagan Correctional Centre, as it filled with inmates and staff, solitary confinement became a sort of overflow for three inmates in protective custody, according to a B.C. legal advocacy firm.

“For months and months there was only one PC (protective custody) unit, and OCC had way more PC prisoners than that,” Prisoners’ Legal Services legal advocate Shelly Bazuik said.

“So the overflow (inmates) were being told the only way their safety could be guaranteed was by checking themselves in to segregation, 22-plus-hour-a-day lockdown, and then eventually, the slightly better health-care and mental health observation units, which are 22-hour lockdown, but with access to TV and personal effects.”

Related: Indefinite solitary confinement in Canadian prisons unconstitutional: B.C. Supreme Court

But getting solid information on the institution’s uses of solitary confinement is exceptionally difficult, according to PLS executive director Jen Metcalfe.

The Western News filed a freedom of information request for a stat sheet of all uses of segregation at the jail and reasons for the uses of segregation. But Corrections could only provide three single-day snapshots.

Story continues below

Use of segregation at OCC
Infogram

The Correction Act Regulation allows segregation for safety concerns, including short- and long-term and voluntary segregation, as well as segregation during the disciplinary process.

Related: Solitary confinement veto a chance to address mental health: advocate

Between the jail’s opening and January this year, three surveys were conducted on May 15 and Dec. 1, 2017 and on Jan. 19, 2018.

In May, there were 26 inmates in segregation — 11 for disciplinary reasons, and 15 for security reasons — making up 11 per cent of the jail’s average population that month.

By December, when the jail was considered fully operational, 41 inmates were in segregation, making up 12.5 per cent of OCC’s average population that month. That’s despite the segregation unit only has 36 cells, according to the request for proposals put out by Partnerships B.C.

Of those inmates, 29 were in for security reasons and 12 in for disciplinary reasons.

Related: Report details use of solitary confinement in mental health detentions

In January, there were 44 inmates in segregation, 14 per cent of the inmate population reported to be at OCC on Jan. 15.

B.C. Corrections said the numbers in segregation seen in OCC were standard across the board, and denies using segregation for space management.

A request for comment on the apparently lacking record-keeping on segregation and the discrepancies between the number of segregation inmates and the number of cells did not yield a response as of publication. The Western News will update if and when a response is issued.

Related: B.C. government takes three months to produce nothing

“There is currently — and always has been — enough space to house inmates classified to protective custody at OCC,” a B.C. Corrections statement reads, reiterating Warden Steve DiCastri’s statement.

“It should be noted that there are some cases where an inmate could be at risk even in the protective custody population. In these cases, inmates may choose to be separately confined from the inmate population on a voluntary basis, or they may be transferred to another centre.”

But PLS received three independent complaints about that exact issue.

“It was growing pains. They did not have the staff to open enough units for the prisoners that were being placed there,” Bazuik said.

Story continues below

Related: ‘Violated and humiliated’: inmate claims privacy breach in OCC segregation

Bazuik said she also received two troubling complaints that inmates were asked to waive contact concerns.

When placing inmates in living units, jails have to consider things like court-ordered no-contact orders often placed on co-accused, as well no-contacts for security reasons.

“(They) were being asked to waive those concerns because there were members of rival orgs on all the GP (general population) units,” Bazuik said.

“Or else (they would) be placed in segregation or protective custody (if possible), which GP prisoners never want to do because you cannot come back from it. Once you have been PC, you will be targeted by GPs because they know who have done something to warrant protective custody.”

Related: Inmate suing Okanagan Correctional over alleged assault

Again, PLS got some pushback on that issue, with DiCastri denying to the legal advocates that the jail would ever ask inmates to waive their contact concerns.

Metcalfe said PLS doesn’t often receive complaints about other jails using segregation as overflow or asking inmates to waive contact concerns.

“In general, correctional authorities are really concerned about having people in contact with incompatibles, because that’s where people are put in danger.”

With that said, with 14 complaints against the jail regarding solitary at PLS, the jail has only the fourth highest per-capita rate among B.C. jails.

Solitary confinement recently came under fire across Canada after the B.C. Supreme Court ruled against indefinite segregation in federal prisons. In B.C. jails, the Correction Act Regulation says inmates can be held for 15-day periods, but there is no limit to how many times that can be renewed.

Story continues below

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth poses in front of the Okanagan Correctional Centre after a media scrum, which followed his first tour of the jail. The jail opened almost exactly six months before he was named public safety minister.
Dustin Godfrey/Western News
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth poses in front of the Okanagan Correctional Centre after a media scrum, which followed his first tour of the jail. The jail opened almost exactly six months before he was named public safety minister.

Dustin Godfrey/Western News

It’s still unclear how the ruling, which is being contested by the federal government, would affect provincial jails.

The province has said it will be reviewing its policies on segregation since the ruling on indefinite use of segregation in federal prisons.

In 2014, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said those with mental illnesses are more likely to be put in segregation, and in the federal system, Indigenous inmates are overrepresented in solitary. But even those simple demographics are unattainable because of the lack of records on segregation in B.C.

For those with mental illness, the practice truly can be torture, and even those in segregation near cells with inmates struggling with mental illness report their own distress, Bazuik said.

“Prisoners in segregation who do not suffer from mental illness frequently complain about the inhumanity of having to watch, but not being able to intervene in the suffering of people being separately confined while in a mental health crisis.”

Report a typo or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Western News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

Follow public health recommendations, says Interior Health as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Revelstoke. (Image courtesy CDC)
Revelstoke positive COVID cases grows to 29

Interior Health announced a cluster in the community on Nov. 26

Figure skaters in the old skating rink in the 1940s. 
(Revelstoke Museum and Archives photo 4034)
Glimpses of Revelstoke’s past for Nov. 26

A look a local history as recorded by the newspaper

Cst. Dane Storey was recognized as a member of Alexa’s Team, a provincial recognition paying tribute to police officers who make an extraordinary contribution to reducing the number of impaired drivers on the roads. (Submitted/Revelstoke RCMP)
Alexa’s Team awarded to Revelstoke RCMP officer

Cst. Dane Storey removed 59 impaired drivers from B.C. roads in 2019

Revelstoke Mountain Resort opens for the season tomorrow, Nov. 27, 2020. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Know before you go: Revelstoke Mountain Resort opens tomorrow

Masks are mandatory, lineup opens at 6:30 a.m.

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

A West Cabs driver is being investigated for an incident which allegedly took place this week. (West Cabs)
West Kelowna cab driver under investigation after altercation over his lack of mask

Passenger alleges cab driver became confrontational when asked about wearing mask

Supt. Brian Hunter will be presenting first quarter RCMP stats to Penticton city council, tomorrow (April 21). (Phil McLachlan - Western News - File)
South Okanagan RCMP superintendent wants to set up dedicated prolific offender task force

Supt. Brian Hunter plans to use the additional officers city council approved for the force

(Pixabay)
‘We need to be empathetic’; Kelowna support worker speaks out after disabled individual denied haircut

Individual with severe autism denied service at a Kelowna hair salon for not wearing mask

Parents are urged to be on alert after a potential child abduction attempt took place near Armstrong Elementary School Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (amsas/neden photo)
Possible child abduction attempt at North Okanagan elementary school prompts warning

A letter from the school’s principal urges parents to be on high alert

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COLUMN: Anti-maskers’ message misses the mark

Following COVID-19 restrictions now could determine just how happy our holidays are

The Interior Wildfire Rehabilitation Society is looking for 10-15 acres to house a rehab centre for injured and orphaned wildlife like deer and moose calves. (Black Press file photo)
Okanagan group look for property to house wildlife rehab centre

The Interior Wildlife Rehabilitation Society is looking for 10 acres for injured/orphaned animals

Most Read