correctional services of canada / human rights / justice / prison / prisoners' rights

Inmate deaths from unnatural causes rise

from CBC News

The number of inmates who died of unnatural causes in Canadian prisons increased 70 per cent this year, according to new figures obtained by CBC News.

This increase occurred despite a concerted effort by federal officials to try to reduce the number of people who kill themselves or die violently while incarcerated.

John Chafe has seen riots and standoffs during his more than 25 years as an inmate in Canada’s prison system.

What’s happening now is creating feelings of hopelessness among inmates, Chafe told CBC News.

“There’s no release mechanism for the guys inside anymore,” he said. “There are no programs. There’s not work. There’s no money.”

In 2009 so far, 17 inmates have died from suicide and other unnatural causes, up from 10 such deaths the previous year. In total, 560 inmates were assaulted, many of them sustaining serious injuries.

Officials with the Correctional Service have stated that reducing inmate deaths and assaults was a top priority in the wake of the death of Ashley Smith.

The 19-year-old died on Oct. 19, 2007, at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont. She killed herself while guards stood outside her cell door.

Three former guards and a supervisor were charged with criminal negligence in her death.

Correctional officials also promised to boost health services to deal with the increasing problem of mental illness.

However, new figures show the system spent $178 million less than budgeted on basic services such as food, clothing and health care.

“We’re seeing an increase in spending on security to keep people inside rather than on therapeutic interventions,” said Kim Pate who heads the Elizabeth Fry Societies in Canada.

Meanwhile, Canada’s ombudsman for prisons is due to release his quarterly report on deaths in custody in Ottawa tomorrow.

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