Manitoba advocate for children and youth renews call for system change

The Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth (MACY) is renewing her call for more mental health and cultural supports for youth placed in custody in the interest of public safety and improved rehabilitation.

A special report update titled Breaking the Cycle was released Friday updating the use of segregation and solitary confinement in Manitoba youth custody facilities.

The advocate’s renewed call to the Manitoba government and Manitoba Justice focuses on:

  • prohibiting segregation over 24 consecutive hours;
  • ensuring segregation incidents under 24 hours are further restricted in the law to protect vulnerable populations;
  • enhancing therapeutic, mental health and cultural supports for youth in custody; and
  • creating a stand-alone medical facility for youth in custody, led and run by mental health professionals.

The purpose of this update is to amplify the voices of youth in custody as well as the voices of justice staff who have said that they need more tools to help manage children who enter custody with emotional trauma or other complex needs.

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“Many youth in custody facilities live with unresolved and sometimes intergenerational trauma, cognitive disabilities, or mental illnesses,” said acting advocate Ainsley Krone in a press release.

“As established in our 2019 report, research is clear that segregating and isolating youth, particularly for extended periods of time, and regardless of the reason, is harmful and may have lasting impacts on their mental health and on their abilities to transition safely back into the community.”

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The new report reveals that the large majority of adolescence in segregation are identified as 74 per cent male and 94 per cent Indigenous and that more than half had known mental health challenges.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 protocols also led to an increase in the use of segregation due to the 14-day isolation period upon entry.

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Throughout 2020, data revealed a concerning ten-fold increase in the number of segregation incidents lasting more than 15 consecutive days, which constitutes prolonged solitary confinement.

“Today I am reiterating the call made by my office in 2019 to the Manitoba government and Manitoba Justice to shift their response by investing in a youth justice system that is based on effective therapeutic programs,” Krone said.

“The youth and service provider perspectives shared in this report make it clear that change is needed.”

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If youth are to reintegrate safely back into the community, they need the tools and supports to cope with their emotions and trauma.

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As one youth interviewed stated: “The way they do it, they’re not helping us.”

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Youth have the right to such cultural supports while in custody as stated under provincial regulations and under international conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s shocking to read in this report that young people are still being subjected to solitary confinement for multiple days in a row, and it’s crucial the Justice Minister put supports in place so that this traumatic practice can end and youth can get the mental health care they need,” said NDP Justice Critic Nahanni Fontaine in response to the report.

“As Opposition Justice Critic, I am working to put forward legislation which would better regulate solitary confinement and create more safeguards for young people living in justice facilities,” she added.

With the proclamation of The Advocate for Children and Youth Act in March 2018, MACY can now track progress on all of its recommendations to government and other public services and publicize child death investigations and systemic research through the Advocate’s special reports.

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