Nova Scotia

Review into death of inmate Joshua Evans to look at why disabled man was in jail

Joshua Evans was developmentally disabled and had the intellectual capacity of a seven-year-old. Justice Minister Mark Furey said a review of his death will look at whether jail was the appropriate place for him.

Evans's father says he was known to be suicidal and had the mental capacity of a 7-year-old

Joshua Evans was found unresponsive Monday in his cell at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. (Submitted by Don Evans)

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says an investigation into the death of a developmentally disabled man who was being held at the province's largest jail will consider whether he should have been there in the first place.

Joshua Aaron Evans, 29, was being held on remand in connection to child pornography charges and breach of probation. On Monday, staff at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth found him unresponsive in his cell following a suicide attempt. CPR was started and Evans was rushed to hospital, where he died the next day.

Evans's father, Don, said in a statement that his son had the intellectual capacity of a seven-year-old, was known to be suicidal and needed to be closely monitored. He said he believes his son should have instead been in a hospital or an institution for the mentally challenged.

Justice Minister Mark Furey says a review into the death of Joshua Evans will consider if the Burnside jail was an appropriate place for him to be held. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The review, Furey said, will look at why Evans was being held in custody and whether the Burnside jail was the appropriate place for him.

Furey said Evans was staying in a transitional day room in the jail, a place the minister said is different from both the general and forensic populations, and is intended to provide special services for people who might need mental-health or psychological support.

"The facility and the employees were doing what they're best able to do in providing the services and needs to this individual," he said Friday at Province House.

"The health services that are available to individuals within the facility are intended to address those needs … but that's a question we look to have answered over the course of this investigation and the discussions that will follow."

Minister has 'full confidence' in staff

Furey, who said he has "full confidence" in the work of staff at the jail, said even with the best policies in place, "those things happen."

"We see incidents happen in spite of people's best efforts. My objective here is to determine through the course of the investigation what improvements can we make to mitigate and prevent these circumstances in the future."

Investigations have been launched by Halifax Regional Police and a joint effort by the Justice and Health departments.

NDP justice critic Claudia Chender said the situation shows there is a long way to go in improving the system. It starts with answering why someone with the mental age of a seven-year-old who was known to be suicidal would be in jail at all and wasn't under constant watch.

A most basic question

Her most basic question, however, is "why someone who is in the care of corrections is found dead."

"I think that's a question that everyone should have," she said.

Chender wants the province to do an external review of the system to better understand what's happening in its jails and make sure people's basic human rights are being met. She said the recent prisoners protest at Burnside shows that question is up for debate.

"They've said that the conditions in that facility are such that things like this may happen."

Premier Stephen McNeil said he doesn't know the circumstances around what happened with Evans, but said he "was surprised, to say the least" as to the way things are being described.

"I think we certainly should be having a conversation about the capacity of individuals and where [there are held so] they would be protected."

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Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at