Nova Scotia

Burnside staff didn't follow policy for intellectually disabled inmate who died: review

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice is adding resources to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside following the death of an inmate there. Joshua Aaron Evans, 29, was found in severe medical distress in the jail on Sept. 10.

Joshua Aaron Evans, 29, was found in severe medical distress in the Burnside jail on Sept. 10

Joshua Aaron Evans, 29, was found in severe medical distress in the Burnside jail on Sept. 10. He died the next day in hospital. (Submitted by Don Evans)

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice is adding resources to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside following the death of an inmate.

Joshua Aaron Evans, 29, was found in severe medical distress in the Burnside jail on Sept. 10. He died the next day in hospital. The department launched an internal review into his death and released a one-and-a-half-page report on that review on Wednesday.

The review found deficiencies, including the failure to complete daily progress reports — used to monitor and record an inmate's behaviour — for six days leading up to his death.

On the night he was found in distress, staff missed two rounds of checks because they'd been drawn away to deal with an issue in another part of the jail, the review found. That's a violation of policy.

But the president of the union takes issue with how the report describes the actions of jail staff.

"There's a staffing crisis within the facility and when people are called away from doing something they're still doing their job, they're still working," Jason MacLean said the day after the report's release.

"So for it to be characterized as rounds being missed is a mischaracterization of that."

Evans, who had an intellectual disability, was being held in the jail's transition day room where he was monitored by both clinical staff from the Nova Scotia Health Authority and correctional officers. The department's review found that Evans was having normal interactions with staff and other inmates on the night he was found in distress.

The province says it will add a full-time social worker and inspector to Burnside's staff to ensure compliance with policies. 

MacLean said the additions aren't enough. "You can have an inspector to make sure that the rules are being followed but that person isn't going to do the day-to-day work of the facility, they're just going to police it."

The department is also doing a full assessment of programs available to those with special needs to see if more supports are needed.

"These are tragic circumstances that we do not want to repeat," said Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey on Wednesday. 

Evans's family is being given the opportunity to participate in a restorative conference with staff, senior managers and those who interacted with Evans before his death. MacLean said the union welcomes the chance to participate in a restorative process.

The province is promising to incorporate any findings from this process in future improvements at the jail.

'Where is the public accountability?'

Ruth Strubank, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living (NSACL), said she was "stunned, disappointed, concerned and shocked" by the report.

"It's very vague," she said. "It feels like somebody just threw it together — 'We gotta get this thing done and out the door.' … Where is the public accountability?"

The NSACL and People First Nova Scotia asked Justice Minister Mark Furey last month to launch a public inquiry into Evans's case. Strubank said she received a response to that request earlier this week that did not include a commitment to a public inquiry.

While Strubank acknowledged the province says it will make some changes as a result of the review, she's not satisfied.

Public inquiry needed: prof

"Those things are not a substitute for a deep, thorough public inquiry. We don't really know exactly what happened. We don't really know what needs to be done differently because it's not a thorough inquiry."

Archie Kaiser, a Dalhousie University law professor, echoed that sentiment. Kaiser also serves as a director of the  NSACL and a provincial adviser for People First Nova Scotia and was a signatory on the call for a public inquiry.

"While some of [the changes] are positive, we can't be sure they are adequate because there hasn't been the third-party scrutiny that there should be here," he said.

Kaiser said he is deeply disappointed that the call for a public inquiry has been ignored.

"It is only when an independent party, such as a judge, conducts a thorough examination of the facts and canvasses all of the alternatives that might prevent such tragedies in the future that public accountability will be assured," he said.

"Joshua Evans deserved better treatment than he received and the response so far of the Department of Justice does not go nearly far enough."