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Teen Gulag

March 31, 2010 permalink

Ontario's child advocate Irwin Elman has released a report on The Roy McMurtry Youth Centre. The Toronto Star first reported on Elman's concerns about the superjail for teenagers last November. In October the Ministry of Children and Youth Services made improvements to procedures at the jail. The Toronto Star quotes minister Laurel Broten saying she’s “very proud of the work we’ve been doing to get to this stage where we are now". However, the advocate reports the number of complaints only increased after the changes. Faced with abuse of their children, mom and dad would take corrective action immediately, but minister Broten spent the last five months preparing a report. Our reading of her "Action Plan" reveals little that is likely to improve the treatment of the kids. There is nothing in the plan that suggests ending the dominator methods exemplified by repeated strip-searches.

Below is a list of complaints received from inmates:

  • Foreign substances found in the food
  • Small portions of food, “hungry all the time”
  • Not enough food provided for youth observing Ramadan
  • Poor quality of food
  • Prescription medication not received regularly
  • Cold temperatures especially at night, not enough blankets provided
  • Lack of access to showers
  • Lack of privacy in washrooms
  • Overhead lights on all night, can’t sleep
  • Staff inconsistencies regarding the behaviour management system
  • Lack of programming, “nothing to do here”
  • Delay and denial of phone access to Advocate’s Office
  • Delay and denial of phone access to lawyers
  • Lack of privacy during phone calls to Advocate’s Office and to lawyers
  • Only allowed to call parents via collect calls/parents with cell phones cannot accept collect calls/ parents with financial constraints cannot accept collect calls
  • Numerous cancelled family visits.
  • Uncooked and small food portions, less food on weekends because two meals (brunch, dinner) rather than three meals are served per day on weekends
  • Lack of access to medical care
  • Not allowed to call the Advocate
  • Lack of programming
  • Shortage of staff prevents movement and therefore lack of access to school, spiritual centre, use of washroom and recreation
  • Locked in room for long periods of time
  • Use of physical interventions by staff to manage behaviour
  • Excessive force by staff
  • Excessive searches
  • Peer to peer violence

The name of Roy McMurtry seems destined to join Buchenwald, Gulag and Abu Ghraib.

You can read Elman's Report (pdf) and Broten's Report (pdf), and read the Toronto Star report below.



Jail for youth not safe, report says

Roy McMurtry Youth Centre
The Roy McMurtry Youth Centre has won international acclaim for its design, but it’s a different story inside the $93 million Brampton facility.

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.”

Source: Toronto Star