2 suicides at same N.S. women’s prison ‘raises a lot of red flags’: ombudsman

WATCH ABOVE: The brother of a Newfoundland woman who died behind bars is questioning whether female inmates with mental health issues are getting all the care they need. His sister was one of the two women who died recently while serving time at the Nova Institution for Women. The man responsible for overseeing Canada’s prisons says their deaths raise a lot of red flags. Ross Lord reports.

Camille Strickland-Murphy’s family remembers her as funny, smart, and active young woman — not as a 22-year-old drug addict who took her own life last month, at the Nova Institute for Women in Truro, N.S..

Her family hoped that by going to a federal institution she’d get the help she desperately needed.

Strickland-Murphy’s shocking turn to crime included an armed robbery at a Newfoundland bank machine, disguising herself in her brother’s clothing.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Investigation: Canada’s psychiatric prisons have highest death, assault rates

“I believe the crimes themselves were stemming from the influence of drugs or alcohol,” her brother Keir Strickland-Murphy said. “But the reason she turned to those were mental health issues, from her anxiety and her OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).”

Get the latest National news. Sent to your email, every day.

“I think it’s obvious my sister was not getting the help she needed, as we saw the result there, I really think that we just need more basically just more help for them.”

Her suicide followed the death of another Newfoundland woman, in April, who was serving time at the same women’s prison.

Prison officials haven’t revealed the cause of 38-year-old Veronica Park’s death. But, Canada’s prison ombudsman, Howard Sapers, said such back-to-back deaths are troubling.

“Having two women die in custody in such proximity, in one institution, raises a lot of red flags.”

READ MORE: Canada’s sickest inmates are locked in its deadliest prisons

Sapers, whose official title is Correctional Investigator, told Global News a woman hadn’t died in federal custody since 2013.

Before that, it was Ashley Smith in 2007 — another mentally ill inmate who choked herself to death, while guards stood and watched outside her segregated cell.

Story continues below advertisement

Outrage following Smith’s death has forced some changes.

“We’ve seen some improvements in staff training,” said Sapers. “We’ve seen some capacity enhancements made by Correctional Service of Canada. Some policy changes around the use of segregation.”

READ MORE: Inmates with mental illness subject to ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ suit alleges

But, some say communication is still weak.

Officials haven’t told Camille Strickland-Murphy’s family whether or not she was in segregation when she killed herself.

“It was the first attempt we were ever told of, but we have since found out there were other attempts [that] we were not informed of,” Kier Strickland-Murphy said.

He said the family should have been told about previous incidents.

Prison officials told the family they didn’t say anything prior to her death because it was only self-harm, not actual suicide attempts.

With questions surrounding both recent deaths giving rise to frustration, answers are still on short supply A spokesperson at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro refused to comment.

Sponsored content