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Newfoundland correctional facilities to adopt ‘new, progressive segregation policy’

Owen Brophy (left), superintendent of prisons for Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks to reporters Wednesday afternoon at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s. Looking on are Minister of Justice and Public Safety Andrew Parsons and Asst. Supt. Dianna Gibbons.
Owen Brophy (left), superintendent of prisons for Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks to reporters Wednesday afternoon at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s. Looking on are Minister of Justice and Public Safety Andrew Parsons and Asst. Supt. Dianna Gibbons.

Before Wednesday, if an inmate at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s broke prison rules, that inmate could end up in segregation for up to 15 days straight.

That’s a long time with no regular prisoner privileges or even the all-important family visits.

On Wednesday, however, a new way of looking at disciplinary segregation was announced by the provincial government.

The maximum disciplinary segregation period was dropped from 15 days to 10, and an inmate now has the opportunity to get out of the isolation cell earlier by earning “remission or good time.”
Family visits will also be allowed to segregated inmates.

And, even before they pass through the doors of the isolation cell, they will now undergo a mental-health assessment. If found likely to be suffering from mental-health issues, an inmate cannot be placed in segregation and must be referred for further treatment.

Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons made the announcement to media gathered inside the aged and high concrete walls of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary Wednesday afternoon.

The promise of a new policy comes after a review of current standards and practices that, he said, is expected to make the province a national leader in its approach to disciplinary segregation.

Parsons said the policy will provide alternative disciplinary measures for corrections staff and will give inmates greater access to mental-health services and rehabilitation programs.

“There’s a mentality out there that when you go inside (a prison) that it is about punishment, about deterrence, but rehabilitation is a big part of the principles of sentencing,” Parsons said.

“In talking to people who served time in segregation, they come out filled with more hate and anger than they went in with. That’s not what we want. We need rehabilitation to be a part of this. The vast majority of people who go inside are coming back out. We can’t have them coming out worse than when they went in.

“We have to have a recognition of the vast impact of mental-health issues that people are facing. In fact, going into segregation is only compounding and complicating that.”

The new policy is based upon a report completed by a segregation review committee assembled during the spring of 2016 by Owen Brophy, superintendent of prisons for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Members of the committee included: Cindy Murphy, executive director of the John Howard Society Newfoundland and Labrador; Denise Hillier, director of clinical services with Stella’s Circle; Heather Yetman, manager of institutional programs, adult custody, Department of Justice and Public Safety; Heidi Edgar, program manager, Canadian Mental Health Association NL Division; Lt. Randy Hanlon, unit manager of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary adult custody; and Rod Harris, manager of programs, John Howard Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Brophy noted the committee’s report makes 18 recommendations — 14 of which will be implemented immediately, while the remaining four will come into effect after some infrastructure changes.

“It was a fantastic report and it really provides us with an opportunity to move forward in a progressive manner with the treatment of inmates, especially inmates with mental-health issues,” he said. “Segregation for the most part, I truly believe, does not work and we have to come up with alternatives.

“It’s a stressful situation for inmates and staff, and I think that by accepting and implementing these recommendations, we will be reducing the stress and the tension in our facilities for both staff and inmates.”

There are two types of segregation used in the province’s correctional facilities — disciplinary segregation and administrative segregation.

The prison’s regulations under The Prisons Act states: “Administrative segregation is used to separate a prisoner from general population when his/her continued presence in the general population would pose a serious threat to life, property, self, staff, other inmates or to the security and good order of the institution.”

Whereas: “Disciplinary segregation is generally known as a form of separation from the general population for a specified period of time” for violating prison rules and regulations, including failing to comply with the lawful direction given by the superintendent or officers.

The report released Wednesday focused on disciplinary segregation only.

Recommendation 16, however, suggests that a thorough and complete review of administrative segregation should also be conducted.

Hillier said the committee put a lot of work into the report, including researching the issues and challenges particularly around mental health and the impact that time in segregation can have on an individual’s mental health. They also held focus groups with inmates and corrections staff.

“We were also aware of some of the issues of trying to operationalize some of the recommendations that we had, but we were told that wasn’t for us to worry about, so we really tried to side-step some of that and really focus on what we felt the challenges were,” Hillier said. “I think what we came out with in the recommendations really focused on mental health, for one, being significant, and we were very pleased to hear the minister say they accepted (the recommendation) to reduce the amount of time people can spend in segregation.

“Having a mental-health assessment was also one of the really big pieces because we feel that people with mental illness should not be kept in segregation.”

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