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An intellectually disabled woman needed help. She went to jail instead

Click to play video: 'Questions raised after development disabled adult sent to Saskatchewan Prison'
Questions raised after development disabled adult sent to Saskatchewan Prison
WATCH: A Saskatchewan family is horrified after their intellectually disabled daughter was sent to jail, instead of receiving the support programs she should be entitled to. Heather Yourex-West reports on the heartbreaking circumstances facing this family and the situation they in part blame on the pandemic – Dec 20, 2022

Curiosity about new arrivals is normal at Saskatchewan’s Pine Grove Correctional Centre, but when Jessica Stuckey arrived at the remand centre in early November, some of the other inmates were immediately concerned.

“They were worried,” said advocate Sherri Maier with Beyond Prison Walls Canada. Maier said one of the inmates told her Stuckey was extremely distraught and did not appear to understand why she was in jail at all.

“She told me, ‘Sherri, there is something really wrong. She’s childlike. She shouldn’t be here.'”

Stuckey is 24 years old and has a genetic chromosomal abnormality called Smith-Magenus Syndrome. She lives with a permanent intellectual disability.

“She is kind of paused at a developmental stage at about six years old,” said Deanna Harris, Stuckey’s lawyer. “Normally, she would have a lot of community support, which would keep her out of trouble.”

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Stuckey’s mother, Barbara Stuckey, said those supports used to be available to her daughter and for a while, the young woman was living successfully, on her own.

“We moved her to Melville, (Saskatchewan) to get day programming (and) that was really good,” Barbara Stuckey said. That was 8:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the evening, Monday to Friday, and she also had about 10 hours that people came in the evening and did cleaning and laundry and grocery shopping and maybe some crafts.”

“She really did well there and then COVID came.”

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When the pandemic hit in 2020, many community support programs for those with intellectual disabilities became virtual. Barbara Stuckey said most of her daughter’s programs seemed to disappear.

“Her only support (became) two hours of online programming with SaskAbility here in Yorkton and me,” she said.

But that level of support was not enough for Stuckey.

“Jessica really needs human connection so Jessica started reaching out to the RCMP,” Harris said.

“The police would attend her house (and) put on YouTube and things like that. What developed was a pattern of behaviour where Jessica was using these resources that she really didn’t need and so there were multiple calls a day sometimes to 911 services.”

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Police say Stuckey also made threats, threatening to kill two of her mental health support workers.

“When she attended mental health one day and they said we can’t help you unless you’re going to hurt yourself or someone else she threatened to kill the mental health worker,” Harris said.

But instead of getting help suited to her needs, Stuckey was arrested and charged with two counts of uttering threats and mischief over $5,000.

“I could feel people’s frustration in dealing with her,” Barbara Stuckey said. “This is kind of textbook for that syndrome to threaten the people who are helping her the most. She can’t be any different. I didn’t think she would be charged for just being herself.”

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At a hearing, Stuckey was denied bail and ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment but because the nearest psychiatric hospital was full, she ended up at the Pine Grove Correctional Centre instead. She remained there for 36 days before being found not criminally responsible for her actions. She’s now in a psychiatric hospital until a provincial review board determines her fit for release.

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“I’m horrified, honestly, that she would spend so much time in remand,” Harris said. “It was a really difficult experience for Jessica but I think it was also a difficult experience for other people at Pine Grove. I know that correctional officers had difficulty managing her behaviour and they did their very best but the correctional facility is not designed for developmental disabilities.”

“There must be a better way when we know that someone is struggling with such a disability,” Harris said.

Stuckey’s psychiatrist agreed. In an email to Global News, Dr. Ken Harrison said: “With Jessica, the most appropriate option for her would be the intensive community supports. Her intellectual disability is not something that can be treated in an acute stabilization psychiatric hospital setting, as there is nothing with her intellectual disability to stabilize.”

Harrison said he’s been recommending an intensive community support program for Stuckey for the past two years.

“Unfortunately, due to the nature of how funding is allocated, it can be a lengthy process and due to budgetary constraints, may not always meet all the needs of the patient. The funding for Jessica was not going to be in place until likely April of 2023, and in my opinion was not adequate, with I believe around 10 hours per week of community supports rather than the 24-hour supports of a group home environment that I recommended.”

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Harrison said he believes this lack of support ultimately resulted in Jessica’s arrest and criminal charges.

“Over the last two years, Jessica has made hundreds of calls to emergency services, mainly secondary to loneliness on her part and not feeling that her needs were being met. Subsequently, with some of the defining characteristics of Smith Magenis Syndrome being impulsivity and a tendency towards aggression, this culminated in the charges that were eventually filed.”

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In a statement, Sterling Snider, executive director of program and service design of disability programs with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services said, “We want Jessica Stuckey and her family to know we understand their concerns and are here as a support.”

“We partner with third-party service providers across the province to provide residential services, day program supports and comprehensive behavioural supports for persons with intellectual disabilities. We then work with individuals with intellectual disabilities to support them in accessing a variety of those services so they can live as independently as possible within their own communities,” Snider said.

“Our services are voluntary for people with intellectual disabilities in respect of their right to make their own decisions. We take a person-centred planning approach to work collaboratively with them through assessment and analysis to identify their service needs. Where assistance is required, that planning process broadens to include the individual and a core group of people who know, care, and are committed to supporting them.

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“Planning with the person is an ongoing process, with regular reviews to ensure appropriate supports are being provided. We use this same process when an individual may be transitioning from a variety of different settings, including health or correctional facilities.”

Inclusion Saskatchewan, a group that advocates and supports individuals with intellectual disabilities, declined a request for an interview but told Global News it plans to advocate for Jessica Stuckey to be released and supported in the community.

In the meantime, Stuckey’s mother said she has no idea what to do next.

“(Jessica has) so many questions. She really doesn’t understand what’s happening,” Barbara Stuckey said. “I don’t know whether to encourage her or discourage her. I don’t know what to do.”

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