On May 12, 2015, WCPJS filed a lawsuit against the BC government challenging the fairness of the BC Corrections’ prisoner disciplinary system.
In BC, prison staff adjudicate disciplinary hearings against prisoners accused of violating institutional rules. “This lawsuit challenges the lack of independence in a system where the offended party is the judge”, says Tonia Grace, counsel for WCPJS and three prisoner plaintiffs.
Correctional staff can impose sanctions as severe as solitary confinement when a prisoner is found guilty of breaking an institutional rule.
Prisoners can appeal convictions to the Investigation and Standards Office, who routinely find the prisoner’s right to an impartial, unbiased decision maker was violated.
At some BC prisons, the conviction rate is approximately 90%. About 50% of appeals to the Investigation and Standards Office are successful.
“By the time the appeal overturns the conviction, prisoners will have served most or all of the sentence in solitary confinement. A successful appeal is a hollow victory for most prisoners”, says Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a project of WCPJS.
Prisoners are found guilty on the low “balance of probabilities” standard of proof, rather than the higher criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This means that prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for up to 30 days for one breach, and up to 45 days for more than one breach, even if the decision-maker is not sure the prisoner committed the breach. The lawsuit also challenges the use of the lower standard of proof.
“When prisoners feel they have been treated unfairly, it does not foster a respect for the rule of law, which is essential to their rehabilitation as law abiding citizens”, says Metcalfe.
To read the Notice of Civil Claim, click Here.
For more information please contact:
Prisoners’ Legal Services
Grace, Snowdon & Terepocki