Family members of the 29-year-old man who took his own life at Burnside jail this week say his death could have been avoided if he was given proper treatment.
Christine Barnes says her nephew, Josh Evans, attempted suicide at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on Monday. He was pronounced dead at Dartmouth General Hospital the next day.
Barnes says Evans had the mental capacity of a second grader and was missing half of his 22nd chromosome.
“Basically he’s like a seven-year-old boy in a man’s body,” Barnes told Global News on Thursday.
On Aug. 6, 2015, a search of a home in Niagara Falls resulted in Evans being charged with making child pornography available, unlawfully accessing child pornography and three counts of possession of child pornography. Barnes says Evans was released four months into his sentence on strict conditions.
While at a detention centre in Niagara Falls, Evans received a psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with velocardiofacial syndrome. He was given counselling and medication, and according to Barnes, he was also placed on suicide watch.
“Basically, the signals going into Josh’s brain tend to twist and spin, then his thoughts are altered,” Barnes stated.
“I know he had done something wrong, but I don’t think he was aware (that) what he was doing was wrong.”
Barnes says the family moved to Nova Scotia about a year ago. On July 12, Evans was once again charged with child pornography-related offences. He was also charged with failing to comply with a probation order and failing to comply with a prohibition order.
At Nova Scotia legislature on Thursday, Justice Minister Mark Furey said the investigation remains in its early stages and would not confirm the identity of the victim or cause of death.
He did say, however, that the victim was on remand and in a transition day room — a space for people with mental health issues or other challenges who do not meet the criteria to be housed in the forensic part of the jail.
“He had … received medical attention within the facility but at the time of his death was in his cell in the transition day room space,” Furey said.
Furey would not confirm whether the medical attention was mental health-related. He added that this is the first death to occur in a transition room space.
“We have had other [inmate deaths] in the past, but this is really an unfortunate, isolated case.”
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Furey added that he continues to have full confidence in how the Burnside jail operates.
“The Burnside facility is going through a transition to direct supervision and that is affecting change, and inherently, wherever we experience change, there is some anxiety both amongst staff, and in this case, these circumstances, inmates,” Furey said.
“We believe that the transition that is happening is fluid.”
‘I need answers’
In a statement to Global News, Josh’s father Don Evans said he plans on hiring a lawyer and taking legal action.
“Someone should have known and cared enough to help him along and keep him safe. When someone goes into custody you expect them to be safe and not end up in the morgue four weeks later,” Don Evans wrote.
“Laws need to change so this never happens again…. this should be looked into. I need answers.”
Barnes hopes changes are made to how inmates are processed to ensure a situation like Josh Evans’ doesn’t happen again.
“He should have been in a halfway house or somewhere where he could have one-on-one counselling or be monitored 24/7,” Barnes said.
“I want to know why he fell through the cracks, why nobody picked up on his condition, why it seems like he was kind of just pushed to the side.”
–With files from Sarah Ritchie.