Nfld. & Labrador

Human rights commission wants more oversight of segregation in N.L. jails

"There's four inmates, or people ... who are dead. Somebody has to speak for them."

'Are they entitled to any kind of legal due process and justice or fairness?'

Kim Mackay is the vice-chair of the province's human rights commission. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's human rights commission is questioning the medical care and segregation conditions at Her Majesty's Penitentiary following the death of inmate Chris Sutton — the latest person to have died inside one of the province's correction facilities.

"I hope and trust it's adequate but really, there's no oversight of that," Kim Mackay, the organization's vice-chair, said about HMP's medical services.

"Secondly, I would be concerned as to whether [inmates] are being placed in segregation, or segregation-type conditions, for prolonged periods of time. Are they entitled to any kind of legal due process and justice or fairness? Can they access help if they need it?"

CBC emailed the department of justice, but officials were not able to respond to a request for comment as of Wednesday evening. 

Too much discretion? 

Mackay said the province's justice department has assured her within the last few months that prisoners with mental health issues aren't being put into segregation, which she said would be a violation of their rights.

Mackay questions whether correctional officers at Her Majesty's Penitentiary 'have the tools' they need to do their job. (CBC)

"There's a difference between suicide watch, which would protect somebody's life and make sure that they're observed at all times, and denying them basic human rights such as placing them in a cell with very little comforts," Mackay said.

Sutton, who attempted to take his own life prior to his death on June 30, was alone in his cell and not in segregation at the time of his death, according to sources.

The justice department has not confirmed that detail, or certain others relating to Sutton's death, citing an ongoing investigation. 

There's a difference between suicide watch ...and denying them basic human rights.- Kim Mackay

"Understanding that the correctional officers in this province have a very difficult job to do, I'm questioning whether they have the tools to do that job and whether there's too much discretion," Mackay said, adding that some of the issues at HMP are found in other jails across the country.

"Perhaps more oversight is needed to protect the inmates."

'Somebody has to speak for them'

An independent investigation into the four inmate deaths in less than a year in the province is underway.

Earlier this month, the health and community services department said, within the next year, it will take over medical services for inmates from the justice department.

Mackay intends to meet with former RNC Supt. Marlene Jesso, who is heading that review, as well as the justice department early next week to make her case.

Chris Sutton is being laid to rest on Thursday. He died while incarcerated at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, a men's provincial institution in St. John's. (Facebook)

She hopes to discuss her idea that the province needs to collect statistics on segregation, provide better medical care, improve overall conditions and look into creating resources for Indigenous inmates.

"There's four inmates, or people — Samantha Piercey, Sky Martin, Doug Neary and now Chris Sutton — who are dead," Mackay said.

"Somebody has to speak for them."

With files from Malone Mullin