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The Yukon Human Rights Commission negotiated a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice on the segregation of inmates with mental disabilities at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, and the treatment of Indigenous prisoners. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC) The Yukon government is committing to creating a forensic mental health care unit for inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, and new policies related to the segregation of prisoners, as part of a human rights settlement agreement announced this week.

After four years, the Yukon Human Rights Commission has negotiated a settlement agreement with the territory’s Department of Justice on the segregation of inmates with mental disabilities, as well as the treatment of Indigenous prisoners in the territory’s correctional system.

The agreement is the result of a group of four human rights complaints filed in 2014, which alleged systemic discrimination and a failure to accommodate on the basis of ancestry, religious belief, and physical or mental disabilities.

The names of the four complainants have been redacted from the public agreement, and they’ve agreed to withdraw their complaints as a result of the settlement. Yukon Human Rights Commission director Jessica Lott Thompson says the settlement is a ‘very positive step towards improving the lives of prisoners’ but more still needs to be done. (Nancy Thomson/CBC) While the commission’s director Jessica Lott Thompson hailed the settlement as a "very positive step towards improving the lives of prisoners," she said work still needs to be done. The commission also maintains that segregation and separate confinement should be abolished entirely.

According to the settlement, the government has agreed to a wide range of conditions related to the mental health care of inmates and the adoption of policies that consider the current and historical treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The government has also agreed to new policies related to segregation and separate confinement, as well as increased record-keeping and documentation, and human rights training for all corrections staff. ‘Huge opportunity’ to shift corrections culture

Most notably, the agreement mandates the creation of a new "forensic mental health care unit" by May 2019. The unit will be tasked with reviewing and providing improved mental health care services for inmates.

The government has also agreed to create a new "mental health team leader" position within senior management at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC).

The team leader must be a PhD clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, and Lott Thompson calls it a "huge opportunity" to shift the culture of the corrections system to better consider inmates not just as prisoners, but also as patients.

"There’ll be somebody with significant medical knowledge of mental health and mental disability who’s going to be sitting at that senior management table, and be able to bring their knowledge right to the forefront of where decisions are being made."

WCC has also committed to better record-keeping: documenting any contact an inmate has with mental health or nursing staff, as well as the details from hearings and decisions regarding the segregation of inmates, including all efforts to provide alternative options to segregation.

An additional commitment has been made to seek out ways to consider "Indigenous Social History" and Gladue factors when doing case management and considering segregation for Indigenous inmates, and when training correctional staff and management, among other areas.

"[The agreement] is a strong signal that there’s an interest from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre in having substantial change happen," said Lott Thompson. "The commission is looking forward to monitoring and supporting WCC’s efforts in any way we can to make these changes real.

In a written statement, Allan Lucier, the assistant deputy minister of community justice and public safety said the territorial government is "fully committed" to working with […]

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