Prison attorney calls for support after two more people die in custody
A prison advocate says more support needs to be provided for inmates in provincial prisons who are being held on remand after two more young men died in custody this month.
A 19-year-old man was found unresponsive in his cell at Regina Correctional Center on February 10. Two days earlier, a 21-year-old man died in custody at Saskatoon Correctional Center.
There have been nine deaths in provincial prisons since the beginning of last year.
Sherri Maier of Beyond Prison Walls Canada said pre-trial detainees don’t get support when it comes to mental health and drug issues.
“You don’t get a lot of psychological help,” Maier said. “You can’t go to any program that they offer. So if you have an addiction, you will not receive addiction support until you are actually sentenced to a unit.
“So really, when they say it’s dead time, that’s exactly what pre-trial detention is. It’s dead time. You just sit and wait.”
The Department of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety has given few details on the recent deaths, only to say there is no suspicion of foul play and the deaths are not related to COVID-19.
The ministry said both men are in pre-trial detention, meaning they have been charged with a crime but have not been convicted.
In an emailed statement to CBC, the ministry said it was taking a number of measures to ensure the safety of inmates, staff and the public.
“This includes the use of video cameras, hourly inmate checks, ongoing case management services and assessments of health care at the facility,” the statement said. “All correctional facilities have on-site medical staff and all correctional facilities are trained in first aid and have access to on-site first aid supplies, including Narcan [a drug used to treat overdoses].”
Maier said mental health problems and illegal drugs are a major problem in provincial prisons and pre-trial detainees are not getting the support they need, with dire consequences.
“It just happens far too often,” Maier said. “Whether they are convicted or in custody, they should be given equal support.
“They are in the custody of the Ministry and I see no difference in being convicted or remanded in custody. They should still get the same kind of support.”
The ministry said it “is undertaking a work plan to make any necessary changes identified through the internal inquiry into a death in custody.”
Section 20 of the Coroner’s Act 1999 states that all deaths in custody are subject to an investigation.
The Saskatchewan Coroners Service makes the final determination as to whether to conduct an inquest into a remand death.
That’s not enough for Maier.
“Most of these people come in [to jails] already with a mental health problem, diagnosed or undiagnosed, and they’re not getting the support they need.”
The province is building a new screening center in Saskatoon at an estimated cost of $120 million, due to open by summer 2025.