Prisoners should not be dying in jail, says Anglican Church

Bishop Geoff Peddle says he doesn't want to take sides, but recognizes that going public ramps up the pressure.

Eastern N.L. diocese speaks out in letter posted on its Facebook page

Bishop Geoff Peddle says he wants to trust the inquiry currently underway into the death of the two women at the Clarenville prison. (Paula Gale/CBC)

A Newfoundland church says it hopes an independent inquiry will prevent further deaths at the Clarenville Women's Correctional Centre.

"Clearly, when two women die under the care in an institution like Clarenville, one wonders if indeed enough is being done," Geoff Peddle, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Newfoundland and Labrador, told the St. John's Morning Show on Monday.

People should not be dying in institutions in this way.- Geoff Peddle

"I want to be careful not to be accusatory or to take sides here. I recognize the complexity of this matter, I recognize the difficulty, but people should not be dying in these institutions in this way."

Skye Martin, left, died at the Clarenville prison April 21. Samantha Piercey died May 26. (Facebook/submitted)

Skye Martin, 27, died April 21; the RCMP have said it appears she choked on her lunch.

However, a statement from the province's justice department said, "The matter is currently under investigation and therefore an official cause of death, as determined by the chief medical examiner, cannot be released at this time."

Samantha Piercey, 28, died May 26; her mother says she was told it was a suicide.

Applying pressure

Peddle and other members of the Anglican diocese wrote a letter expressing their concerns on May 31 and posted it on their Facebook page.

"Obviously when you go public you are applying more pressure," said Peddle.

Both of the deaths are under an independent investigation, the results of which will need to be made transparent to the community, Peddle said.

"Our perspective as a faith community, as a church, is our belief in the dignity and value of the individual that comes from God. Everybody has that dignity regardless of where they start in life and where they end in life, and we want to state that very clearly."

Peddle himself has done work with the justice system, and continues to visit prisoners at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's.

The Clarenville Women's Correctional Centre is the only prison for women in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Courtesy Kathy Gosse/The Packet )

To Peddle and his peers, the core issue always seems to point back to mental health, and concerns about addictions and counselling and treatments being offered.

As for what can be done to prevent other deaths, Peddle had no firm suggestions.

"I'm not an expert on this, but I trust the inquiry that is underway," Peddle said.

"I want to believe that it will identify the shortcomings and make recommendations that will be acted upon immediately and fully to ensure that this does not happen again."

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With files from the St. John's Morning Show