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No home for man, in jail 7 months

Nov 10 2011

A 19-year-old man with serious developmental disabilities has spent more than seven months in a youth jail because Community Living B.C. has no other place to put him, B.C.'s child watchdog says.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said jail is becoming the default home for disabled young people when there is no support in the community. "Basically we're using jail as the services for him," she said. "CLBC has not been able to find a placement for him."

Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, said she fears for the safety of the young man, who has the developmental age of a six-year-old child and is vulnerable to abuse in the criminal justice system.

She said the government is paying far more to keep the man behind bars than it would cost to care for him in the community, and officials could be at risk if he comes to harm.

"What if something happens to him?" she said.

"What about our duty of care? This doesn't sit right with me, and I think there's a lot of risk to the people in those systems around the type of decisions that have been made for this young person."

The Times Colonist reported on a similar case in July when a 23-year-old man with severe developmental disabilities was sent to an adult jail in Victoria because Community Living B.C. had no other place to house him.

The judge in that case noted that the man, who also had the mental capacity of a six-year-old, should have been put on probation instead.

"This is a case where the provisions made by society are inadequate," he said.

Turpel-Lafond, who has worked as a judge, said the 19-year-old man in the most recent case has never been found guilty of alleged crimes, because it is unclear whether he is fit to stand trial. He has been diagnosed with mental retardation, Tourette's syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and bipolar affective disorder.

Turpel-Lafond said the man was previously in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and received intensive support in a group home. The placement broke down, he got into trouble with the law, and he celebrated his 19th birthday in the youth custody centre.

At that point, responsibility for his care shifted to Community Living B.C., the government agency that provides services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Turpel-Lafond said he has been assessed as requiring a high level of support, but the most CLBC has offered is two hours of supervision a day. "This should have been a planned transition, and it didn't happen properly," she said.

Doug Woollard, CLBC's acting CEO, was unable to comment on the specific case for privacy reasons. But he said, generally, such a case would be of significant concern and his agency would co-operate with justice and court officials to come up with a plan to meet the person's needs.

CLBC's role would be to find an appropriate place for the person to live once out of jail, he said. "We don't determine when a person is released from a correctional facility."

Turpel-Lafond said government made the "preposterous" suggestion last week that the man should call his new client support team to have his case reviewed.

"We had to politely remind them that [he] is incarcerated, significantly developmentally disabled, had no support person and can't call [his] client support team for service," Turpel-Lafond said.

She did not identify the man or release specifics of his alleged crimes or location to protect him from potential harm. But she said it is one of a series of cases she has handled in which services for young people are breaking down once their files transfer to Community Living B.C.

The agency has struggled to cope with a limited budget and a list of 2,800 people waiting for service. Government has ordered an internal audit and review by senior bureaucrats.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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