Pivot Legal joins calls to prevent halfway house on prison grounds
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 2020
Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories –Pivot Legal Society joins advocates and members of the Yukon bar to call for the suspension of a residential housing program within the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and demand Yukon Corrections and John Howard Society of the Lower Mainland immediately identify an appropriate external facility to meet basic rehabilitative standards.
The Yukon Adult Resource Centre (ARC), a community corrections site, is set to close due to highway expansion and be relocated onto an existing re-purposed unit of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC). ARC is to be managed by the John Howard Society of the Lower Mainland (JHSLM).
Yukon defence lawyer Jennie Cunningham is joined by 10 members of the Yukon Bar and the Canadian Prison Law Association in calling for programming that promotes healing, reintegration, and positive community relationships. She says, “By housing a halfway house on prison grounds, corrections undermines principles of community integration and its obligation to support people as they transition from supervision to safely living in community. We call upon Yukon Justice and John Howard Society to reconsider plans for E-Unit and consult all relevant stakeholders. At WCC, where at least two-thirds of the incarcerated population are Yukon First Nations citizens, the government must collaborate to develop solutions that align with First Nations values.”
The decommissioned unit that will serve as the supervised residential program is on the same grounds as the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, which has a history mired with significant human rights violations of prisoner. In a letter to the Yukon Director of Corrections and JHSLM, Pivot Legal notes: “It is unreasonable for the Director of Corrections to expect that rehabilitation and transformation can take place in former cells, on the same premises as RCMP holding cells, Admitting and Discharging facilities, and custodial units [and] decommissioning Unit E will not erase the traumatic history of the WCC.”
A halfway house in a prison would still feel like prison.
Mackenzie Joe, a Champagne & Aishihik First Nations citizen who has spent time in prison describes her disappointment with the newly-announced changes, “For far too long, the needs of women who are reintegrating in the Yukon have not been met. Women who spend time in corrections experience great isolation from their families, especially when they cannot see their children because they are held far away. We need a women’s halfway house here, and this new Supervised Residential Program does not meet our needs. This new program is only for men, and it’s still housed in a prison. A halfway house in a prison would still feel like prison. If you have spent time in WCC you would remember the cement, the doors, the cells, the sounds, and smells. This new program sounds just like being in a prison, but with passes.”
For many years, Yukon First Nations have been advocating to take responsibility for the health and wellness of their citizens under self-government agreements. Now, with very little consultation, Corrections has put forward an inappropriate resource in a setting that is not conducive to healing or wellness.
This is not a setting where healing and rehabilitation can occur.
Benjamin Bruce Warnsby, a lawyer and Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in citizen, expresses concern about the loss of ARC and the newly announced facility: “I am gravely concerned. We have lost a community facility that provided options for people who had very few options. At ARC, my clients could access a community-based program and benefit from supervision and structure, instead of being on the street or in jail. As a lawyer, I now wonder if it is reasonable to advise my client to accept conditions that amount to a jail cell: “Supervised Residential Housing Program,” is on the grounds of a prison, behind a barbed wire fence. This is not a setting where healing and rehabilitation can occur. ” Warnsby suggests rather than repurposing jail cells, we must work towards a continuum of community supports that promote integration, healing, and accountability.
The relocation runs counter to current public health directives in the current and ongoing pandemic emergency. Pivot Criminalization & Policing Campaigner Meenakshi Mannoe states “Increasing density at a correctional facility when we are seeing fatal viral outbreaks in prison populations across the country is irresponsible.”
Benjamin Bruce Warnsby
Lawyer & Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in citizen
Champagne & Aishihik First Nations citizen
Criminal Defence Lawyer
Criminalization & Policing Campaigner, Pivot Legal Society
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Background information & Documents
Pivot letter including recommendations
May 4, 2020
Letter from members of the Law Society of Yukon
May 4, 2020