Solitary confinement lawsuit given class-action green light by B.C. Supreme Court

A legal action brought against the provincial government by a former inmate of the Prince George Regional Correctional Center for the use of solitary confinement in BC prisons has been certified as class action.

Naveah North, formerly known as Cody Alan Cragg, is the lead agent in the lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates in provincial facilities who have been in solitary confinement for at least 15 consecutive days or despite suffering from mental illness.

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While in custody at the PGRCC, North spent seven months in custody for responding to self-harming behavior and then spent 16 months in a medical observation unit where she was incarcerated 23 hours a day.

North has struggled with mental illness since she was a teenager, according to a summary of the British Columbia Supreme Court decision Nathan Smith to certify the lawsuit.

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During her time at PGRCC in 2014, she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, polysubstance disorder, and difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions.

“The plaintiff has also filed affidavits from six other current inmates alleging prolonged segregation or solitary confinement,” writes Smith.

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“Their descriptions include: cells contaminated with blood and feces, deprived of sleep by light that stays on all night, and only half an hour a day outside of their cell. Persistent problems that various relatives attribute to their time in solitary confinement include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the exacerbation of pre-existing mental illnesses. “

Finding that the plea revealed a plea, Smith found that North relied on three class action lawsuits in Ontario that make similar allegations and not only have been certified, but have made a summary of their merits and won plaintiffs.

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One of them was on behalf of provincial system inmates and received a $ 30 million worldwide award, Smith also noted.

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Attorneys representing the provincial government have questioned claims that “solitary confinement” is used in prisons in British Columbia. In response, Smith said that the term could be replaced by “separate restriction and / or separation”.

Provincial government lawyers also picked up issues, including inmates who had been detained as members of the class on April 18, 2005, citing a two-year statute of limitations. But Smith said there may be an exception for a person who has a disability such as a mental illness and is therefore unable to manage their affairs.

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The provincial lawyer also said that segregated inmates do not necessarily have to be alone and in some cases lie in double beds. They also claim that North and the others who made affidavits shared a cell with another inmate for at least part of the time they were segregated and thus had “meaningful human contact.”

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They also say that inmates’ health records, including any mental health diagnoses, will be segregated from criminal records and that judicial officers will not have access to them.

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Craig Jones, a law professor at Thompson Rivers University, said that while the matter can still be brought to justice, the judge must balance the odds whether the provincial government was wrong, but he doubts it could go that far will go.

“In practice, my guess is that less than one percent of class actions actually go to court,” Jones said. “After certification, they’re almost always done, so winning certification is a big deal.”

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North claims the province’s actions were in violation of inmates’ charter rights, which Jones said “may be a bit of the wave of the future.”

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“You know, 10 years ago people would probably have told you that cases like this probably wouldn’t have had any hope without showing some sort of malice on the part of the government, but it’s a slightly different world.”

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According to Jones, if an agreement is reached, it will be published as it needs to be approved by a judge.

Although there were stays at the Colony Farm forensic psychiatric clinic in Port Coquitlam, North spent nearly four years at PGRCC.

In May 2018, she was sentenced to an additional four years in federal detention for setting fire to a house in Bear Lake and carrying out two attacks on Colony Farm, one of which resulted in a conviction of attempted murder.

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Given a long criminal record that included previous convictions for attempted murder and arson, the Attorney General advocated designating North a dangerous felon with an indefinite prison term.

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However, the judge found that North had taken significant steps to change her life even though she was still on a 10-year long-term surveillance order after her term ended.

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