First two paragraphs read: "YET another person has died in police custody."
"This time, it was a 28-year-old man arrested by Enfield RCMP last Saturday night for breaching a court order."
Paragraphs five and six read: "She says she informed police of his history when they came for him that night.She says she also told officers he’d just taken antidepressant medication and that they’d even noted this in their records."
"Sadly, the man was found unconscious in his cell by a security guard who’d checked him every 10 minutes."
YET another person has died in police custody.
This time, it was a 28-year-old man arrested by Enfield RCMP last Saturday night for breaching a court order.
If the story his grieving fiancée told The Chronicle Herald this week is accurate, it reinforces a growing public suspicion that there needs to be a re-evaluation of procedures employed by the justice system’s first responders.
According to the woman, her fiancé was addicted to alcohol and pills and had once nearly died from an overdose.
She says she informed police of his history when they came for him that night.She says she also told officers he’d just taken antidepressant medication and that they’d even noted this in their records.
Sadly, the man was found unconscious in his cell by a security guard who’d checked him every 10 minutes.
Since there’s an official investigation underway, it’s premature to point the finger of blame.
Nevertheless, it’s not too soon to ask what else could and should be done in similar situations, because sudden deaths are becoming a fact of life in Canada’s criminal justice system.
(As if to underscore the point, the day after the Enfield death a young inmate in a Dartmouth jail was murdered in his cell.) Most recent figures from Statistics Canada show 182 prisoners died in 2006.
No matter the crime, the state has a duty to ensure adequate monitoring and medical care for all in its charge.
It’s an unqualified responsibility, and it must start at the moment of arrest.
When it comes to sudden deaths behind bars, Canada’s independent Office of the Correctional Investigator has been extremely critical of the whole incarceration system.
Not only has the investigator said the system repeatedly makes the same errors, he contends it actually resists implementing many recommendations made by coroners and medical examiners.
Now, to be realistic, officers can’t go poking inmates every 20 minutes to determine whether they’re asleep or dying. Nor does it help that rural police detachments can be some distance from medical assistance.
Even so, surely this just adds urgency to the task of finding a better way to keep prisoners safe.We could do worse than make the Enfield tragedy our starting point for some tough questions.
What kind of risk assessment, if any, is done when a prisoner enters the system?
What kinds of preventive measures are in place, other than spot checks? In fact, do officers even know what’s expected of them in situations like the one in Enfield?
To serve and protect needs to be more than simply a motto on the vehicles our police drive.
And finally, the “boot" has reached Halifax. That’s the dreaded device which, once attached to a wheel, immobilizes your vehicle until you pay a fine, usually for parking where you shouldn’t. So far it’s being used by a private firm but let’s hope this isn’t the thin end of the wedge. In some cities, San Francisco for example, drivers with 10 unpaid parking tickets get the boot until they cough up. The mind boggles at the potential excuses to use this fiendish thing. Imagine it in the hands of a lover scorned or an impatient creditor. For what it’s worth, if you are on the receiving end, letting air out of your tire sometimes works.
Peter Duffy appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.