The report, entitled A Three Year Review of Federal Inmate Suicides, was prepared by Canada’s correctional investigator, Howard Sapers. It examines in detail the deaths of close to 30 inmates between 2011 and 2014 and why many of the recommendations made to try to prevent future deaths have not been implemented.
Statistics show that inmates in Canada’s prisons are eight to nine times more likely to commit suicide than people in the community.
On average, 10 inmates take their lives each year. About half of those involve prisoners who have been placed in solitary confinement, known as segregation.
Dozens of reviews, reports and inquests going back more than a decade suggest that many of these deaths could have been prevented. But many of those recommendations have not been implemented, according to Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which advocates for women in prison.
“It’s irresponsible to the extreme for corrections to be continuing along this vein and yet they are," Pate said. “The fact that recommendations are not being followed is not just counter-intuitive, it’s ridiculous.”
Previous reports by Sapers and his office in 2007 and 2010 show the same concerns were raised time and again following such deaths. In most cases there were advance signs of an impending suicide, such as inmates acting abnormally or giving away their personal items to other prisoners.
There have also been repeated recommendations that prison officials remove points of suspension in cells that could allow inmates to hang themselves.
Many of the reviews cited case after case in which guards failed to follow protocol, in some cases refusing to respond to emergency cell alarms or ensuring inmates were alive and breathing during security patrols and inmate counts.
“Too often the response of Corrections is to defend against any of their involvement and to deflect responsibility.” Pate said.
Pate said many suicidal inmates have a history of mental health problems but, instead of treatment, they are often placed in isolation in empty segregation cells, sometimes in restraints, all of which experts agree can make things worse, not better.
Restraints may worsen depression
“What we see in Corrections is a general response using more restrictive measures, more segregation, more of the very interventions that everybody with expertise in the area of mental health argues is likely to exacerbate feelings of depression, is likely to exacerbate self harm, is likely to exacerbate suicidal ideation.”
As well, many of the deaths occurred late at night and on weekends in institutions when no nurses were on duty. In recent years, the Correctional Service of Canada has cut back on health-care services in prisons across the country. Recommendations from Sapers and others for around-the-clock health-care staffing in prisons have been ignored.
Officials with the Correctional Service of Canada have said they are conducting a high-level review of mental health services in the prison. They say they will respond to many of these concerns later this year.