Ches Crosbie calls for public inquiry into inmate deaths

Newfoundland and Labrador PC Leader Ches Crosbie is calling for a public inquiry into two recent deaths at the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville.

Retired RNC officer already conducting independent probe of 3 deaths

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

Newfoundland and Labrador PC Leader Ches Crosbie is calling for a public inquiry into two recent deaths at the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville.

In a news release Tuesday, Crosbie said he is asking Premier Dwight Ball to launch an inquiry into the deaths of Samantha Piercey and Skye Martin "as soon as possible."

"An inquiry will provide meaningful answers that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador deserve on this issue, and can help restore public confidence," he said.

Crosbie said the probe could also look at how mental health issues in the institution are handled.

Ches Crosbie is calling for a public inquiry into recent prison deaths. (Paula Gale/CBC)

"It is becoming evident that there are deeper systemic issues within our correctional facilities. Without a full inquiry, it is unlikely that meaningful solutions can be put in place," he said.

Martin, a mother of one, died April 21 at the age of 27 while incarcerated. The RCMP said at the time she choked on her lunch.

However, an inmate who served time with Martin suspects she may have attempted to take her own life, after multiple cries for help in the week leading up to her death.

Piercey, 28, a mother of two children, died on May 26. Her mother, Lisa Piercey, has been told her daughter died by suicide. 

In addition to the deaths of Martin and Piercey, a male inmate, Doug Neary, died while at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in August 2017.

All three deaths are under independent review by retired Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Marlene Jesso, at the request of the justice department. 

Review will be 'thorough'

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said the Jesso investigation recognizes the seriousness of the issues in the corrections system.

"The review will be thorough and examine staff response to the situation along with the appropriateness of related policies and procedures," Parsons said, adding that Jesso's recommendations will be made public.

"We recognize that mental health within our institutions is a complex issue," Parsons said in his statement. "We are taking steps to improve mental health and addictions services in prisons.

Many public inquiries already promised

The government has already undertaken several costly inquiries.

An inquiry has long been promised to the family of a Labrador boy who froze to death on the ice outside Makkovik in 2012. The province committed in 2015 to hold an inquiry into the death of Burton Winters.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government will be putting $33 million toward an independent inquiry into the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject.

Aboriginal leaders and the province agreed in 2017 to an inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in the child protection system.

While it hasn't been discussed in years, the province has also committed to an inquiry into the then-PC government's cancellation of a $19-million paving contract in Labrador.

​Humber Valley Paving had agreed to complete work on about 80 kilometres of the Trans-Labrador Highway. But the company was released from its obligation without finishing the job.

Read more stories on CBC Newfoundland and Labrador