Nfld. & Labrador

'It's appalling': Greater services needed for mentally ill in prison, St. John's man says

The brother of Camille Strickland-Murphy, a woman who committed suicide while serving time in federal prison, wants to see more help offered for mentally ill prisoners, and improved communication between families and prison staff.

Camille Strickland-Murphy took her own life at a Truro prison in July

Camille Strickland-Murphy died at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia on July 28. (Facebook)

The brother of Camille Strickland-Murphy, a St. John's woman who committed suicide while serving time in federal prison, wants to see more help offered for mentally ill prisoners, and improved communication between inmates' families and prison staff.

Keir Strickland-Murphy said his family was angered to learn that his twin sister had attempted suicide just a week before she died. 

According to Strickland-Murphy, it wasn't prison officials who notified the family, but police.

"They never contacted us about anything," Strickland-Murphy told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"The prison doesn't like informing outside people about what goes on in the prison, so I suppose that makes sense for people who are not close with their family, for people who have distant relationships — but that wasn't us with Camille."

Camille Strickland-Murphy's twin brother Keir says his family wasn't notified by prison staff of a suicide attempt one week before his sister's death. Keir Strickland-Murphy is seen with his father Noel Murphy in this photo. (Geoff Bartlett/CBC)

He said months prior to her death, there was another incident in which his sister hurt herself. Strickland-Murphy said it was Camille who informed the family about that incident, and not staff at the Nova Institute for Women. 

Strickland-Murphy said being kept in the dark has left the family wondering what would have happened had they known about the suicide attempt.

"I just wish we had a chance to talk to her about it or to seek help because Camille was mentally ill so we all know the prison systems aren't equip to deal with the mentally ill, and I think this is a shocking example of it because of how far it got," Strickland-Murphy said.

"As a family, I would have liked to try to do something — anything — to try and help her but we never got that opportunity because they never told us about it."

Strickland-Murphy said changes need to be made to Canada's prison system, namely increasing communication between families of inmates and prison staff.

'Everyone was just so angry'

A statement to CBC News from the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) states that, in the case of a self-harm attempt or attempted suicide, "the decision and onus to inform the family normally rests with the inmate." 

Given his sister's mental health issues, Strickland-Murphy said "maybe she shouldn't have been given that choice, if she was given that choice at all."

"We were already in shock from the incident from when she did hurt herself but everyone was just so angry when we found out about the other incident that we weren't told about it. It's just appalling," he said. 

The CSC said in the case of self-injury, an inmate is assessed and "treated by healthcare."

The statement, sent to CBC News on Monday, goes on to read, "The reasons for self-injury, level of risk for further self-injury or suicide, and the level of intervention required are included in this assessment. Referrals are made to appropriate resources, including follow-up interventions by appropriate professionals (e.g., psychiatrist, psychologist)."

The Nova Institute for Women in Truro has offered no comment. 

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