Jail for youth not safe, report says

Posted on April 1, 2010 in Child & Family Debates

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TheStar.com – News/Law Enforcement
Published On Tue Mar 30 2010.   Diana Zlomislic Staff Reporter

Ontario’s newest superjail for youth is not safe for its teenage inmates, a report by the province’s children and youth advocate says.  “It doesn’t feel safe and it isn’t safe,” Irwin Elman told the Star Tuesday.

The Roy McMurtry Youth Centre opened in Brampton last summer with the promise to provide programs that would help turn troubled youths into “future taxpayers.”  But complaints of violence, abuse and neglect have risen dramatically in the past eight months.

In new allegations outlined in Elman’s report, to be released Wednesday, youth describe being brutalized by guards and ignored by nurses at the 192-bed facility.  In one case, a staff member reportedly grabbed a youth by the hair to prevent a call to the advocate’s office.

Laurel Broten, Minister of Children and Youth Services, which oversees the jail, said her office has spent the past few months drafting an action plan to address concerns about the facility.

The plan, which also will be released Wednesday, includes phasing in more staff training, anger-management programs for detainees and improving the assessment process that determines to what unit youths are directed on arrival.

The Star learned in December a teenage Crown witness was put in the same quarters as the group of young men he was to testify against.

Broten said she’s “very proud of the work we’ve been doing to get to this stage where we are now.  “I’m not saying we don’t have a lot of work to do — we do. But we’re well on our way.”

The Star first exposed problems at the $93 million jail in November.  While its gleaming, modern façade has won international acclaim in the design world, it’s a different story inside.

After just a few months operating, staff and detainees corroborated accounts of escalating violence, lack of programming and questionable body-cavity searches for missing items, including a DVD.

The advocate’s office, already looking into concerns at the jail, intensified its investigation as more complaints surfaced in the wake of the Star’s investigation.

Elman’s first official report on the institution highlights yet more concerning allegations.

Under the heading “Excessive Force,” the report states that one youth was doing a chore at the jail when “I was grabbed roughly from behind by one officer and forced up against the wall.”

Under “Standard of Care,” youth say they were denied medication because of a “nurse shortage.”  Others complained about a lack of food and being served raw sausages.

Elman is aware of the ministry’s action plan, but says, “the pace of change is too slow.  “People’s lives are dependent on how this place operates. The growing-pains argument won’t work for me because of the length of time they’ve had to get this right from the beginning,” he said.

The individual complaints his office is investigating are serious, but short-term issues, he said.  He sees the root of the centre’s “crisis” as a fundamental disagreement between staff and managers about how to run the facility: Should it be the inmates-behind-bars approach or a more progressive model?

The ministry says it’s committed to the latter.  In response to an early draft of Elman’s report, the ministry recently submitted a list of nearly 140 programs it said it had implemented at the superjail.

Elman’s office deconstructed the list and surveyed almost 90 youths at the jail to see whether they were familiar with any of the programs.  A line-by-line analysis revealed some of the programs have been cancelled, while others were one-off activities and a few seemed right out of place on the list.

“If they list `Diet for Muslim Youth’ — and serve Halal food — is that really a program?” Elman said.

The importance of keeping detained youth busy from dawn to dusk was cited in a number of inquest recommendations after the death of 16-year-old David Meffe, who killed himself in 2002 while awaiting bail at the Toronto Youth Assessment Centre.  That facility was ultimately condemned as “chaotic and unsafe.”

< http://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/lawenforcement/article/787799 >


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