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Snowshoe inquiry prompts calls to improve mental health services for inmates

July 17, 2014

A recent public inquiry into the death of Edward Snowshoe in the federal penitentiary system has renewed calls across the country to improve coordination of mental health and justice services, particularly for inmates with mental health histories.

Snowshoe, an Aboriginal man originally from the Northwest Territories, died by suicide at age 24 after spending 162 days in segregation at Stony Mountain, a medium security Institution in Manitoba.

Snowshoe experienced significant mental health issues during his time in custody including three suicide attempts, a major depressive episode and a self-harm incident.

…the inquiry found that correctional officers who supervised Snowshoe did not have access to the system and were not advised of this mental health history.

Although this information was recorded in an electronic logging system, the inquiry found that correctional officers who supervised Snowshoe did not have access to the system and were not advised of this mental health history.

Furthermore, although a nurse who conducted an interview with Snowshoe requested a psychological follow up, it was found that this follow up was not completed adequately.  In addition, although general observation segregation cells were available, Snowshoe was held in a cell with single observation through a mail slot.

Justice Wheatley’s recommendations included the following:

  • Establishment of a formalized system of providing written reports detailing mental health and health issues during prisoner transfers
  • Improved access for all staff to the electronic logging system where mental health information is recorded
  • Review of psychological department procedures in prisons to ensure that services and supports are provided and clear communication is established when a serious mental health issue is present even if the individual initially refuses support because of their mental health
  • That detailed notes be maintained by psychologists and parole officers attending upon prisoners, especially those in segregation
  • That full observation cells be used where the individual has a history of suicide attempts
  • That Aboriginal status of a prisoner and related cultural issues be recognized within the prison system and that a compulsory system of access by elders be established especially where there are mental health or cultural concerns.

For more information, please see Justice Wheatley’s report at the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General website.

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