03/17/2014 09:20 EDT | Updated 05/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Yellowknife jail's ‘cruel’ treatment sparks investigation

The Northwest Territories Justice Department is reviewing policies at the North Slave Correctional Centre after a judge's comments that an inmate was treated inhumanely when he was left in a cell without clothing, a bed or running water.

Judge Bernadette Schmaltz's remarks came at a routine territorial court sentencing in Yellowknife earlier in March.

Brooklyn Palmantier, 20, pleaded guilty to three counts of resisting jail guards, uttering death threats and possessing a dangerous weapon. Palmantier admitted to threatening staff at the jail and making a weapon out of a razor blade.

He also testified that he was put in an isolation cell naked, shackled and handcuffed. He said he wasn’t offered a shower and had no mattress.

The judge called Palmantier’s treatment “cruel and unusual,” saying he was shown a lack of respect and subject to “inhumane conditions.”  

Schmaltz said that weighed heavily in her decision to sentence him to three months already served and a year’s probation.

The Department of Justice wouldn’t comment on Palmantier’s case, citing privacy rules, but Monty Bourque, who oversees corrections, confirmed Friday that the department is reviewing policies at the centre.

Not a form of punishment

He said clothing or bedding are not removed as a form of punishment, but inmates are assessed for security threats, and privileges can be adjusted if inmates are considered a threat to themselves.

"There are occasions where his clothing would be removed and he'd be provided a gown,” Bourque said.

Bourque said he's reviewing how high-risk offenders are managed, and he's asked staff to document everything that happens in the segregation area.

He said based on what he's seen staff are doing a good job, but it's too early in his review to tell if staff followed policy in the Palmantier case.

Last year, Bourque said, about a dozen inmates were sent to southern prisons because they were considered volatile.

He said the North Slave jail isn't equipped for problematic or high-risk offenders.