Troubled teens promised cutting-edge treatment at Ontario’s new $93-million super-jail for youth have instead been deprived of food, denied programming and subject to questionable body cavity searches, according to a review by a senior provincial official.
Irwin Elman, Ontario’s advocate for children and youth, is investigating cases of excessive force used by some staff at Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton, which currently holds 102 male and female youths — 90 of whom are still awaiting trial. Police are looking into at least one of these incidents, he said.
What’s more, despite the centre’s much-publicized commitment to “state-of-the-art” programming — a proven tool in preventing young people from becoming repeat offenders — it simply doesn’t exist, he said.
“If it’s because of lack of staff or lack of good planning, I don’t know,” Elman said. “But whatever ... it’s not there.”
From the outside, with its gleaming exterior and manicured yards set on nearly 80 acres of land, the government-funded centre seems to embody the model of positive change its foundation was built on.
Inside, though, it’s a much different story.
Elman recounts a particularly disturbing incident.
“They talked to me about a lockdown,” he said. “They were telling me that there was a strip search because there was a DVD missing. There had been a strip search and full-cavity search for the DVD.”
Staff made the youths “bend over to see if the DVD was in their rear ends,” he said.
“That’s punishment,” Elman said. “To be in that situation, for a young person especially, is punishment.”
Elman’s findings follow a Toronto Star investigation into the life and death of Ashley Smith, who was jailed at age 14 for throwing crabapples at a postal worker in Moncton, N.B. Smith suffered from mental health issues that were never treated and as a result, spent nearly four years in segregated isolation for bad behaviour.
At 18, she was transferred to the adult prison system where she strangled herself with a cloth ligature.