West Coast Prison Justice Society

Registration open! Supporting Prisoners’ Mental Health

Conference Date: June 2, 2017 | Conference Location: Vancouver Convention Centre.

Supporting Prisoners’ Mental Health: Best practices and alternatives to solitary confinement

Register now!
This day-long collaborative conference will provide a forum for medical professionals to discuss ways that they can comply with the UN Mandela Rules and advocate for their patients’ mental health in a correctional setting, navigating the waters between ethical and professional obligations and the security concerns of the prison environment.

Confirmed speakers

Dr. Gabor Maté, Best-selling author and retired medical doctor
Dr. Craig Haney, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz
Jennifer Wheatley, Assistant Commissioner, Health Services, Correctional Service Canada
Dr. Diane A. Rothon, Medical Director, BC Corrections
Dr. John Livesley, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin, Clinical Professor, University of British Columbia
Jean-Frédéric Boulais, Director of Investigations and General Counsel, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Conference topics will include: the harms of solitary confinement; trauma and addiction; current standards for accommodating and treating prisoners with mental health issues, including personality disorders; and implementation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules).

We especially welcome doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and other correctional healthcare providers, as well as correctional staff whose work overlaps with mental healthcare and policy development.

Click here to register now – seats are limited. A full agenda will be available shortly. Please email info@pls-bc.ca if you have any questions.

Presented by the West Coast Prison Justice Society with funding from the Law Foundation of BC.

Submissions regarding Canada’s Third Universal Periodic Review

On July 16, 2018, PLS attended a meeting with representatives from the Department of Canadian Heritage regarding Canada’s United Nations Human Rights Council third universal periodic review of Canada. 107 member states participated in Canada’s review and made 275 recommendations for Canada to improve its human rights record. PLS identified the recommendations that highlighted the issues faced by prisoners in Canada and provided a written submission.

PLS appears before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights

On August 11, 2018, Prisoners’ Legal Services appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights for its study on the human rights of prisoners in Canada. We recommend that Canada invest in community-based alternatives to incarceration, and to provide trauma-informed mental health services to prisoners with mental health issues. We call on government to abolish solitary confinement. You can read our written brief here.

BC College of Physicians and Surgeons must address ethical issues surrounding solitary confinement

August 14, 2018 – Burnaby BC – Prisoners’ Legal Services

On August 9, 2018, the Health Professions Review Board issued an important decision requiring the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons to directly confront the issue of medical professionals’ ethical duties under the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules) related to solitary confinement.

Brent Crane, a prisoner who was held in long-term solitary confinement at a BC Corrections pretrial centre, brought a complaint to the College that alleged a psychiatrist violated professional standards when she failed to consider the Mandela Rules in her treatment of him. Mr. Crane argued that the Mandela Rules gave expression to the Canadian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics duty to “refuse to participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights”.

Mr. Crane is an Indigenous prisoner. His mother was in residential school and he experienced violence as a child. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depression with anxiety. His medical records also indicate that he likely suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

The Mandela Rules prohibit solitary confinement for prisoners with mental disabilities when their condition would be exacerbated by its use, and for anyone for more than 15 days, as this is considered to be torture or cruel treatment. The Mandela Rules require physicians not to participate actively or passively in torture or cruel treatment, to report a prisoner’s physical or mental deterioration in solitary confinement to the prison warden and to the competent authority, and to advise the warden if the physician considers it necessary to terminate solitary confinement.

Mr. Crane’s medical records contained multiple notations from other medical professionals that he was exhibiting symptoms associated with long-term solitary confinement, including anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, paranoia and psychosis.

“I don’t feel well in solitary confinement,” said Mr. Crane in his affidavit. “I don’t have anything. I’m by myself in isolation…I feel trapped,” he reports.

The complaint alleged that the psychiatrist participated in Mr. Crane’s solitary confinement by cancelling his certification, which would have allowed him to move from solitary confinement to a psychiatric hospital, by failing to report his mental health deterioration to anyone, and by failing to document the negative psychological effects of prolonged solitary confinement on him.

“Medical professionals who work in prisons may become coopted by the security-focussed perspective of correctional officers. We are hopeful that this decision will empower medical professionals to advocate for the wellbeing of their patients who are in solitary confinement,” said Jennifer Metcalfe executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services.

“The majority of prisoners who are held in solitary confinement suffer from mental disabilities and have a history of trauma and addiction. These are the people most in need of compassionate treatment by medical professionals. These prisoners need therapeutic services and environments to heal so that they can succeed when they are returned to the community,” she said.

In Mr. Crane’s case, the College dismissed his complaint and its Inquiry Committee found the psychiatrist’s conduct and competence satisfactory.

The Health Professions Review found that the Inquiry Committee “failed to confront the key issues” of the application of the Mandela Rules. It found that “the fact that the Inquiry Committee’s findings might have wider systemic implications did not diminish that duty” to “confront the issues of professional responsibility concerning the protection of ‘basic human rights’”.

The psychiatrist in this case argued that a finding could not have been made against her by the College’s Inquiry Committee unless she “was aware of and shared the view that his human rights were being violated”. The Health Professions Review Board questioned whether this was the appropriate test for compliance with professional standards, noting: “In order for the Inquiry Committee to accept the position of the Registrant…it would have to accept that the Mandela Rules, and torture as defined therein, are only applicable where a treating physician agrees with them”.

When the Mandela Rules came into effect in 2015, Prisoners’ Legal Services wrote to the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons requesting that they issue guidelines about them for their members who work with prisoners. The College responded saying that it would not issue such guidelines, but would investigate any complaints regarding the care provided by their members to prisoners.

The Health Professions Review Board decision suggests that the College should revisit the idea of issuing standards or guidelines in relation to the application of the Mandela Rules to physicians working with prisoners.

“Prisoners’ Legal Services would be happy to assist the College to develop guidelines for its members to ensure they are acting in the best interests of their patients, and not participating in their torture or cruel treatment”, said Metcalfe.

“I am glad that my case can help other people who are in solitary confinement,” said Mr. Crane. “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I just want my case to help other people.”

Click here to read the Health Professions Review Board decision in this case.

Media Contact:

Jennifer Metcalfe
Executive Director
Prisoners’ Legal Services

jmetcalfe@pls-bc.ca
604-636-0470

We’re hiring! Contract Lawyer/Prisoner Legal Education Project

Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) is looking for a passionate, problem solving, empathetic and dedicated lawyer for a 10-month contract position. We are a small non-profit society providing legal services to federal and provincial prisoners in the province of British Columbia.

The position has two components: responsibility for the Prisoner Legal Education Project and parental leave coverage for our staff lawyer/legal advocate.

Prisoner Legal Education Project: PLS produces legal education materials for prisoners on a range of topics to help clients pursue issues on their own. The contract lawyer would be responsible for reviewing our current materials for legal accuracy and for developing new materials on issues such as transgender prisoner rights, mother-child programs in prison, and making complaints to medical professional colleges.

Staff Lawyer/Legal Advocate: The staff lawyer/legal advocacy component involves providing advocacy to prisoners regarding prison legal issues, including and especially the prison disciplinary process. It also involves supervising PLS’ four other legal advocates.

Advocacy work is primarily done by telephone, fax and email. Advocacy on behalf of prisoners may involve summary advice, informal advocacy, providing written submissions and personal representation at tribunals.

Legal advocates have conduct of client files and are responsible for ensuring day-to-day tasks are scheduled and performed within relevant timeframes. This position also involves reviewing and determining the legal merit of cases and the level of service to be provided. At times it will also require the direction and supervision of the other legal advocates’ work.

This position would have a great deal of contact with prisoners, prison administrators and parole authorities.

This position requires frequent travel to prisons in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. Access to a vehicle is essential. A CPIC clearance is required to visit prisons.

Basic Qualifications:

  • Must be called to the bar in BC;
  • Strong legal research and writing skills, including the ability to write effectively for lay audiences; and
  • Strong verbal and interviewing skills.

Skills and Abilities

  • Ability to be a strong advocate for disadvantaged clients, including those with low income, those with mental disabilities, or those whose first language is not English;
  • Ability to work well with others in a team setting;
  • Ability to negotiate and find creative solutions to prisoners’ legal problems;
  • Ability to exercise excellent judgment in matters of ethics and confidentiality;
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills, in particular in dealing with prisoners, lawyers, and prison and parole officials;
  • Superb organization skills with strong follow-through and the ability to meet deadlines.
  • Familiarity with general software applications (e.g. MS Word, Outlook);
  • Willingness to assist those convicted of various crimes in a non-judgmental way; and
  • Second language or demonstrated awareness of the cultural diversity of prisoners an asset.

 

Closing date: interviews will be scheduled after July 6, 2018

Start date: ASAP

Interested applicants should submit a covering letter together with a résumé outlining how their qualifications meet the position requirements to:

Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director

Prisoners’ Legal Services/ West Coast Prison Justice Society

Tel: (604) 636-0470

Fax: (604) 636-0480

Email: jmetcalfe@pls-bc.ca

***Also check out the other position we’re hiring for here ***

News Release: Human rights complaint calls for end to solitary for prisoners with mental disabilities and independent health care in federal prisons

BURNABY, BC, June 20, 2018

Today, the West Coast Prison Justice Society (WCPJS) filed a human rights complaint against the Correctional Service of Canada on behalf of prisoners with mental disabilities.

“CSC is still using solitary confinement against prisoners engaged in life threatening self-harm, despite the overwhelming evidence that solitary confinement increases the risk of suicide” said Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services (a project of WCPJS).

The human rights complaint identifies the use of observation cells as another way that CSC keeps vulnerable prisoners isolated in conditions worse than segregation. Prisoners under high observation watch, often because they are suicidal or at risk of self-harm, are denied everything but a suicide smock, mattress and blanket. They have nothing to occupy their time and are often provided as little as 10 minutes of meaningful human contact each day.

“While Canada is appealing the BC Supreme Court decision that found segregation is discriminatory against prisoners with mental disabilities and Indigenous prisoners, people continue to suffer what the UN says is torture or cruel treatment. Our clients are at risk of dying from living under these conditions. They cannot wait while the government fights to continue to use these practices through the appeal courts. It’s shameful,” said Ms. Metcalfe.

The complaint also identifies a lack of therapeutic treatment for the high percentage of prisoners who suffer from past trauma and addictions, and a lack of services for maximum-security prisoners who are often in the greatest need of help and are disproportionately Indigenous, as discriminatory under human rights law.

The complaint seeks health services, including trauma and addictions counselling, to be provided independently through agreements with the provincial ministries of health, so that prisoners can develop a trusting relationship with their caregivers.

Prisoners’ Legal Services is representing Indigenous prisoner Joey Toutsaint in a related human rights complaint against CSC for its use of solitary confinement, including observation cells and segregation, and for failing to provide therapeutic services to assist him with his trauma and self-harm.

“That’s not a suicide cell, that’s a torture chamber,” Mr. Toutsaint said in reference to being placed in an observation cell. “If I talk about my self-harm, they told me they aren’t going to negotiate – they’re going to gas me and throw me in an obs cell. I’m asking for help and no one wants to help me. Every day I have an anxiety attack. I can’t sleep at night. I can’t hold it in much longer. I don’t want to die”, he said.

Click here to see a copy of the representative complaint and here to see a copy of Mr. Toutsaint’s complaint.

Media contact:

Jennifer Metcalfe
jmetcalfe@pls-bc.ca
604-636-0470

We’re hiring! Legal Advocate

LEGAL ADVOCATE

Prisoners’ Legal Services is looking for a passionate, problem solving, empathetic and dedicated advocate for prisoners’ rights, with a focus on women prisoners, youth and health care issues.

We are a small non-profit society providing legal services to federal and provincial prisoners in the province of British Columbia.

The legal advocate position involves providing advocacy to prisoners regarding prison legal issues.  This work is primarily done by telephone, fax and email.  Advocacy on behalf of prisoners may involve summary advice, informal advocacy, providing written submissions and personal representation at tribunals.

Legal advocates have conduct of client files and are responsible for ensuring day-to-day tasks are scheduled and performed within relevant timeframes.  The job involves reviewing and determining the legal merit of cases and determining the level of service to be provided. Legal advocates work under the supervision of a lawyer.

Legal advocates have a great deal of contact with prisoners, prison administrators and parole authorities.

This position requires frequent travel to prisons in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. Access to a vehicle is essential. A CPIC clearance is required to visit prisons.

Basic Qualifications:

  • Post-secondary education in Law, Criminology, Social Work, Paralegal training or equivalent;
  • Strong verbal, written and interviewing skills; and
  • Experience in a legal environment or advocacy an asset.

Skills and Abilities

  • ability to be a strong advocate for disadvantaged clients, including those with low income, those with mental disabilities, or those whose first language is not English;
  • ability to work well with others in a team setting;
  • ability to negotiate and find creative solutions to prisoners’ legal problems;
  • ability to exercise excellent judgment in matters of ethics and confidentiality;
  • must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, in particular in dealing with prisoners, lawyers, and prison and parole officials;
  • must be familiar with general software applications (e.g. MS Word, Outlook);
  • must be willing and prepared to assist those convicted of various crimes in a non-judgmental way; and
  • second language or demonstrated awareness of the cultural diversity of prisoners an asset.

Salary:  $52,584 (benefits after six months)

Closing date:  June 27, 2018

Start date:  ASAP

Interested applicants should submit a covering letter together with a résumé outlining how their qualifications meet the position requirements to:

 

Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director

Prisoners’ Legal Services/
West Coast Prison Justice Society

Tel: (604) 636-0470

Fax:  (604) 636-0480

Email: jmetcalfe@pls-bc.ca

prisonjustice.org

***Also check out the other position we’re hiring for here***

News Release: Human Rights of Federal Prisoners with Opioid Use Disorder Being Violated, Says Prison Justice Group

June 4, 2018 – Burnaby BC

Today, the West Coast Prison Justice Society (WCPJS) filed a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Correctional Service Canada on behalf of all federal prisoners who have been denied life-saving treatment for opioid use disorder.

Prisoners’ Legal Services (a project of WCPJS) spoke with approximately 75 Canadian prisoners suffering from opioid use disorder, many of whom reported waitlists for opioid substitution therapy of many months to over one year. WCPJS is concerned that prisoners are at great risk of fatal overdose, and HIV and hepatitis C infection because of barriers to treatment with Suboxone or methadone, as well as a lack of adequate harm reduction initiatives and psychosocial therapy.

Other prisoners reported having been cut off Suboxone or methadone, some cold-turkey, and suffering painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, on the basis of unproven speculation that they were trying to share medication with other prisoners. Some reported being cut off medication without an opportunity to speak with their doctors first.

The complaint asserts that these practices discriminate against prisoners who suffer from addiction, which is considered a disability under human rights law, as well as against Indigenous and Black prisoners who are disproportionately affected.

The complaint cites research that shows psychosocial therapy adds to the effectiveness of medication, and that many prisoners have histories of trauma.

“Providing treatment for opioid use disorder helps prisoners to heal, rehabilitate and become productive, law abiding members of the community,” said Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services.

“Correctional Service of Canada has an opportunity to provide essential health services to some of the most vulnerable people in society when they come into prison. It is disheartening that CSC is failing to do so at a time when an estimated 4,000 people died of fentanyl overdose in Canada last year”, she said.

Media contact:

Nicole Kief
Legal Advocate
604-636-0470
nkief@pls-bc.ca

Solitary Confinement Public Panel Talk

Join us next Tuesday, February 6th for a free panel talk on the BC Supreme Court’s decision to end indefinite solitary confinement.

On January 17, 2018, the BCCLA won a constitutional challenge to indefinite solitary confinement in federal prisons across Canada, but our work is far from over. Within 12 months, the government will have to decide how the BC Supreme Court’s ruling will be reflected in the law.

Join us next week as we discuss what’s next in the fight against indefinite solitary confinement. Panelists will be unpacking the decision, its impact on prison justice, and mapping what’s to come.

What: Challenging Solitary Confinement Public Panel

When: Tuesday, February 6, 2018. 6-8 pm.

Where: Room 2270, SFU Harbour Centre, 515 W. Hastings Read More

Joint News Release: Changes to the way transgender offenders are accommodated in Canada’s federal prison system

January 31, 2018 – Ottawa, Ontario – The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), and Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS)

An important collaboration spanning several years between the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), and Prisoners’ Legal Services (PLS) has resulted in changes to the way transgender offenders are accommodated in Canada’s federal prison system.

These changes come in the wake of Parliament’s recent change to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which added “gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

In the context of its daily operations, CSC will continue to provide education and awareness to staff and offenders and work to ensure that the health, safety and dignity of everyone is respected at all times. New operational practices for CSC include:

  • Placing an offender in a men’s or women’s institution according to their gender identity, if it is their preference, regardless of their anatomy or gender on their identification documents, unless there are overriding health or safety concerns which cannot be resolved.
  • Using an offender’s preferred name and pronoun in all oral interaction and written documentation.
  • Allowing offenders to purchase authorized items from CSC catalogues for either men or women if there are no safety, health or security concerns according to the security level of their institution.
  • Taking steps to maximize the privacy and confidentiality of information related to an offender’s gender identity. Information about an offender’s gender identity will only be shared with those directly involved with the offender’s care, and only when relevant.
  • Offering individualized protocols for offenders who seek to be accommodated on the basis of gender identity or expression to ensure, among other things:
    • the safety, privacy and dignity of an offender when they access shower and/or toilet facilities; and
    • the choice of male or female staff to conduct frisk and strip searches, urinalysis testing, and camera surveillance.

All three organizations look forward to further collaboration and successful implementation of these changes. As CSC updates its individual policies, it will continue to count on the valuable contribution of correctional experts and stakeholders, such as the CHRC and PLS, labour partners, academia and experts in gender and identity issues.

For more information, please read CSC’s Interim Policy Bulletin on Gender Identity or Expression.

Quotes

“We are overjoyed that CSC is making so many positive changes that recognize the human rights of trans people in the correctional system. These changes will improve the safety and dignity of transgender federal offenders in Canada, affecting every aspect of their daily lives.”
-Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director, Prisoners’ Legal Services

“We have heard the concerns raised by trans individuals and advocates, and we are pleased to see these significant improvements become a reality, for the rights of transgender offenders, and their families. This is about respect and human dignity—something that every person, including those in our prison system, is entitled to.”
—Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E., Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission

“These changes ensure that offenders who identify as transgender are afforded the same protections, dignity and treatment as others. CSC is committed to building a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for everyone, including transgender staff, offenders, volunteers and visitors.”
—Don Head, Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada

Associated Links

CSC Interim Policy Bulletin on Gender Identity or Expression

CHRC Website – Prisoner Rights

Prisoner’s Legal Services
 

Stay Connected

Follow us on Twitter @CdnHumanRights and Facebook.

Watch us on YouTube

Follow CSC on Facebook and Twitter @CSC_SCC_en

 

Media Contacts

Prisoners’ Legal Services Media Relations
Jennifer Metcalfe, Executive Director:
604-636-0470
jmetcalfe@pls-bc.ca

Canadian Human Rights Commission Media Relations
613-943-9118
communications@chrc-ccdp.gc.ca

Correctional Service Canada Media Relations
613-992-7711
media@csc-scc.gc.ca

 

 

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Status of Women – Study on Indigenous Women Prisoners

Prisoners’ Legal Services executive director, Jennifer Metcalfe, appeared today before the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women as part of their current study on Indigenous women prisoners. Click here to read her speaking notes.

Ms. Metcalfe called on government to engage with First Nations and Indigenous organizations for self-determination in the administration of correctional services, and to ensure that they are well resourced to provide full wrap-around support for women who have experienced multi-generational trauma.

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