New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

4 suicides inside New Brunswick jails in 14 years

Officials have recorded more than 919 suicide attempts and life-threatening self-harm incidents in the last 14 years in New Brunswick jails.

New Brunswick’s government initially refused to release jail suicide data to CBC News, citing privacy concerns

New figures show there have been at least 919 incidents of serious self harm inside New Brunswick's jails in the last 14 years. Four inmates took their own lives. (CBC)

Inside New Brunswick's provincial jails, officials have recorded more than 919 suicide attempts and life-threatening self-harm incidents in the last 14 years.

In four cases, inmates ended their own lives behind bars, most often hanging themselves with items in their cells.

The numbers, according to one mental health advocate, is a sign of the "high degree of mental illness" inside New Brunswick's jails.

"One suicide is too many," said Christa Baldwin, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick.

"So how do we find a better way for people that require treatment for mental illness to get that prior to getting to the point of prison time?"

New Brunswick's Department of Public Safety has been tracking suicide and self-harm inside jails for 14 years.

Earlier this year, officials with the department initially refused to reveal the numbers, saying a person's cause of death "is private, personal health information."

CBC News obtained the figures through an access to information request.

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Those numbers, Baldwin said, are important public information.

"The public needs to be aware of it," she said.

"I think there has to be a sense of accountability. This is people's lives, New Brunswickers' lives."

A spokesman with the Department of Public Safety declined a request for an interview about the numbers.

"It is deeply concerning when anyone attempts to cause themselves harm," Paul Bradley said in an emailed statement.

"Correctional Services takes acts of self-harm very seriously and makes every effort to ensure the safety and security of the offenders involved."

Three suicides in Saint John jail

One suicide is too many

6 years ago
Duration 0:34
Officials have recorded more than 919 suicide attempts and life-threatening self-harm incidents in the last 14 years in New Brunswick jails.
The department declined to reveal further details about the four suicides, including the names of the jails where the deaths happened, citing privacy restrictions.

As part of an ongoing investigation into jail deaths, CBC News has learned the identities of the four men who took their own lives, gleaning details from death notices, interviews with family members, news clippings and details from public coroner's inquests.

Three out of four of the men were in custody of the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre when they died.

Only two of the four deaths triggered an inquest, while the details of the other two deaths remain shrouded in secrecy.

One man, 36-year-old James (Todd) Brand of Miramichi, was incarcerated in the now-closed Moncton Detention Centre when he took his own life by hanging himself with a bedsheet.

His 2004 death added urgency to concerns about overcrowding at the old jail. The Southeast Regional Correctional Centre, a replacement facility with more capacity, opened in 2012.

Several family members of these men have told CBC News they continue to have questions about their loved ones' deaths.

Similarities between deaths

Jason Hopkins took his own life inside his Saint John Regional Correctional Centre cell in 2008. (CBC)
They include Barb McAllister, whose 29-year-old son, Jason Hopkins, hung himself with a laundry bag inside his cell at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre in 2008.

CBC News learned that, two years earlier, another inmate — Jeffrey Hood — took his life in the exact same way inside the same jail.

Hood's death triggered an inquest and the jury recommended the laundry bags be taken out of service.

Hopkins' death did not trigger an inquest, leaving his mother with lingering questions and a feeling that her son's suicide could have been prevented.

"My son's death shouldn't have happened because of [Hood's] death," she said in an interview in July.

When asked about the laundry bags this past summer, New Brunswick's director of correctional services, Len Davies, said another "product" was likely adopted after Hood's death.

"It doesn't mean that the product that was chosen was any more effective," he said.

The most recent suicide death happened in the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre on May 28, 2013.

Police said Adam Prest, 39, took his own life inside the jail, but the department has never confirmed exactly how he died.

'Maybe there's blind spots within a cell'

(CBC News file photo)
In addition to more training and suicide awareness, Baldwin suggested future jail suicides could be prevented by safeguarding cells.

"In a cell, there are going to be vulnerable areas," she said.

"There are going to be points where people could die by suicide, by hanging. Maybe there's blind spots within a cell."

Earlier this week, CBC News reported that more than 300 inmates have spent time in segregation inside provincial jails in the first six months of 2016.

Until this year, the department didn't have a monthly tracking process to monitor segregation use in the province.

As Canada's correctional investigator, Howard Sapers is the watchdog for the country's federal prisons.

He doesn't oversee New Brunswick's jails.

But in his work investigating deaths in federal prisons, he has found a link between stays in solitary confinement and self-harm.

"Some people will experience segregation without self-harm," he said.

"Others will commit suicide in segregation. There are other factors you have to look at. That's really the issue. It's who is segregated, for what reasons, for how long and how do they get out?"

Read more about the stories behind New Brunswick's 13 Forgotten Deaths here.