Advocates call for 'immediate action' on in-custody deaths
Published Thursday, July 7, 2016 5:15PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, July 7, 2016 6:35PM EDT
In 2010, spurred on a significant increase in the number of self-harm incidents in Canadian prisons, the federal corrections watchdog singled out eight incarcerated women at “high risk” of meeting the same fate as Ashley Smith – who had killed herself in Kitchener’s Grand Valley Institution for Women six years earlier.
All eight were monitored for more than two years, as they remained in custody, to get a better understanding of self-harming behaviours in prison and the correctional service’s attempts to deal with them.
The watchdog’s report, issued in September 2013, issued 16 recommendations for how self-injuring inmates are treated – including a call for an “absolute prohibition” on placing such people in long-term segregation, as well as strengthening protocols around the use of restraints.
One of the women studied for the report, Kinew James, died nine months before the report’s release.
Terry Baker, who died Wednesday after being found unresponsive in her cell at Grand Valley two days earlier, is the second of the eight to die.
Kim Pate, CEO of the Elizabeth Fry Society – which advocates for women in prison – calls her death “a tragedy and a travesty.”
“There was great hope that she was moving forward,” she said Thursday in an interview.
Correctional officials have released few details about Baker’s death.
What is known is that the 30-year-old was found unresponsive in her cell on Monday, and pronounced dead in hospital on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Correctional Service Canada said that prison staff performed CPR as soon as Baker was found unresponsive.
Asked about claims by Pate that concerns had been raised about Baker being kept in segregation, the spokesperson said that “a tremendous amount of work was undertaken … including by mental health professionals and frontline staff, and there have been many interventions with her over the past few months.”
According to Pate, Baker was found in a segregation cell with a ligature around her neck.
Inmates who knew Baker say she had a long history with segregation, including being in segregation at the time of Smith's death.
Rob Finucan, the Ontario regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said that any comparisons between Baker and Smith were premature as each case should be considered unique.
“Our members followed all the protocols in place,” he said, adding that the union would “fully” participate in the CSC’s internal investigation into the death.
In addition to the CSC investigation, Baker’s death will be subject to an inquest – as is mandatory under Ontario law whenever somebody dies while in custody.
Pate says she wants to see “immediate action” taken to implement the recommendations from the inquest into Smith’s death. The federal government has signalled a willingness to do that, but has not publicized a timetable.
“We don’t want to see this continue,” she said.
Baker was serving a life sentence in connection with the 2002 murder of Orangeville teen Robbie McLennan.
She was one of three people convicted in connection with the case. She told the court that there was “no valid reason” for the rape and torture of McLennan.
Other inmates describe her as someone who was kind and courageous, but in need of help. She was also a registered organ donor.
Pate says Baker wanted to be moved into a mental health treatment unit, and was “supposed to be” sent to one, but may not have been aware of that decision.
With reporting by Abigail Bimman