MLA calls for overhaul of justice system after report shows high number of Indigenous youth in segregation

·3 min read

An alarming new report shows that more than 90% of incarcerated youth in Manitoba who are isolated in segregation are Indigenous, and one MLA says it is time for a complete overhaul of how the justice system in this province deals with and treats Indigenous people.

The study, which was released on Friday by Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth Ainsley Krone, gives statistics from 2019 and 2020 on the number of youth who were segregated while in custody in the province.

The study shows that Indigenous youth accounted for 94% of youth in segregation in 2019 and 2020.

Segregation is defined by Manitoba law as the “confinement of inmates in a manner that prevents their physical contact with other inmates,” and in the report the term segregation is used to include periods of isolation up to 24 consecutive hours in length, while any longer than 24 hours is considered solitary confinement in the report.

“For 2019 and 2020, youth who were segregated were most often male, Indigenous, and had known mental health concerns,” Krone states in the report.

“Youth in segregation were as young as 12 years old. The average age of youth in segregation was 16 years old.”

The study also states that 63% of total youth in segregation in 2019 and 2020 had “known mental health concerns.”

According to the report incarcerated youth being held in solitary confinement for more than 15 straight days increased 10 times from 2019 to 2020, mainly because of COVID-19 protocols that required 14 days of isolation upon entry of penal facilities.

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

“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.”

NDP MLA and justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said that what the report shows is a complete failure of the justice system in Manitoba to deal with youth, and specifically Indigenous youth.

“It’s 94%, and it’s just unacceptable, you can’t even wrap your head around the fact that 94% of children placed in isolation are Indigenous,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine added she believes the number of incarcerated Indigenous youth and adults in Manitoba’s criminal justice system can’t be separated from the long-standing effects of the residential school system.

“This report coming out now shows you can’t separate this from the discoveries at Kamloops and Cowessess First Nation,” Fontaine said. “What we see is the intergeneration effect of residential schools, and this is an opportunity to see in a very real and very raw way those consequences.

“This is no accident, it’s been going on for generations.”

Fontaine said that as Indigenous children disproportionately make up the number of youth in Manitoba’s justice system that “cycle” will continue for many of them into adulthood.

“It is very likely that many of these children will grow up and end up in adult court, so we see it’s just a pipeline for this cycle to continue,” she said.

Fontaine hopes to see changes that would put more money into restorative programs and programs that would keep youth out of the criminal justice system, rather than into simply incarcerating and punishing offenders.

“When you look at the amount of money that is spent on just one adult who is incarcerated, you have to ask why they are not investing those dollars into restorative justice and into programs that prevent these kids from ending up in the system,” Fontaine said.

“Our people have been saying it for a long time, the system needs a complete overhaul.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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