human rights / mental health / prisoners' rights

Prison ombudsman warns more death could occur

This article is from today’s issue of the Ottawa Telegraph-Journal, written by Rob Linke.   2 years ago, after the death of Ashley Smith, the Correctional Investigator made strong recommendations about changing CSC’s practice of leaving people in segregation cells for extended periods of time, particularly prisoners with mental health issue.   Those recommendations have not been followed, and the CI says that without outside oversight, this inhumane practice will undoubtedly lead to more deaths.

Thanks to Giselle for sending me this article.

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OTTAWA – The federal prison system’s stubborn refusal to accept outside oversight of such practices as the isolation of mentally ill offenders in segregation cells for extended periods could lead to more deaths in custody, warns the prison ombudsman.
A frustrated Howard Sapers took the Correctional Service of Canada to task for failing to heed key recommendations he made after the death two years ago of Moncton teenager Ashley Smith.
“My great fear is that inmates in federal custody will continue to die while people are holding polite conversations around these recommendations,” he said.
Sapers called Smith’s suicide in a segregation cell in October 2007 a tragedy and “a low point in correctional practices in Canada.”
After concluding her death was preventable but for a litany of failures, he issued 16 recommendations for reform and has pledged to keep the prison service’s response under scrutiny.
In his initial assessment of their actions, Sapers credited the prison service for recognizing it has a problem with deaths in custody and for starting processes to address it.
But he told a Parliament Hill news conference they’re ignoring “the heart of the matter – which is accountability.”
For example, the prison service has launched a review of the practice of segregation, which confines some offenders in small isolation cells for up to 23 hours a day.
But that review “in no substantial way addresses the issue of mentally ill offenders being placed in segregation and held there for inhumanely long periods of time,” he said.
Sapers has argued that segregation of the mentally ill should be given external oversight.
He called for prison officials to have to justify segregating mentally ill offenders for more than 30 days to someone like a judge.
“It’s become clear the service cannot police itself in this regard,” he said.
Independent monitoring of the use of segregation “may well have prevented Ashley’s death” at Grand Valley Institution, a prison for women in Kitchener, Ont., said Sapers.
“I don’t believe any competent review would have allowed her to stay in isolation for 11-and-a-half months,” he said.
Of Sapers’ 16 recommendations, the prison service fully supports nine, partly supports another four and rejects three – including external oversight of segregation.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan’s office issued a response Friday that said the Harper government has responded to Sapers’ work and provided extra resources to the prison system.
They include a requirement for staff to provide assessments for inmates in the first 90 days and the creation of a Mental Health Commission to develop a national mental health strategy.

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