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Jury makes recommendations as coroner's inquest concludes

“More supports for mental health are required,” says RPCC Director.

REGINA – The coroner’s inquest into the in-custody death of Christopher Aaron Lee Taniskishayinew concluded today.

One final witness, Darrell Olbrich, the Director at the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre, provided testimony during the morning. When asked by Coroner’s counsel Robin Ritter what can be done to reduce the number of suicide deaths in correctional centres, Olbrich stressed the wide reach of mental health in general.

“Mental health is recognized as a national, provincial, city-wide issue - not just an RPCC issue,” he said, adding “More supports for mental health are required.”

Olbrich also noted a desire to enhance the facility with any suggested supports.

“Anything that we can do to provide those supports, we’d be open to listen,” he said.

The matter of in-custody suicides is alarming, as the inquest learned between 1995 and 2020, there were 25 hanging deaths in correctional facilities across Saskatchewan. Some steps have been taken to reduce harm, and Olbrich provided an example of how Taniskishayinew’s death brought changes to RPCC.

“Because of this death, RPCC was made aware of a hook being used,” he said, referring to an investigation held after the suicide. “We took it upon ourselves to remove those hooks on Unit 4 altogether.” The hook in question was located near the top bunk of Taniskishayinew’s cell, which he used to fasten a bedsheet to in order to hang himself on Aug. 16, 2020. It was also the subject of much discussion in the two previous days of testimony. Olbrich explained why it was located in the cell initially.

“When I looked at that hook, it seemed original to when the unit was built for first time offenders and young offenders,” he said, adding that it would’ve likely been used as a clothesline or to close off toilet facilities to allow for privacy. Over time, the cells had been changed, but four hooks in total were discovered during a ligature audit and subsequently removed.

As in previous days, the question of programming offered to inmates was posed by Ritter, who asked in particular what programs were offered to  Taniskishayinew. Olbrich replied that Taniskishayinew had been taking part in the Courage to Change program, but the majority of programming had been cancelled during the summer of 2020.

“No programs being were offered, several workplace placements weren’t operating, most units were confined to themselves except units that had areas where we use inmate labour,” Olbrich explained, answering a question during cross-examination from Alexa LaPlante, representing the Ministry of Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety.

One idea Olbrich proposed when asked for his insight on how to reduce inmate deaths was to have a dedicated phone line those serving time could utilize, a “help line” for those experiencing issues with mental health.

Timothy Hawryluk, the coroner presiding in the inquest, endorsed the recommendation of such a phone line, telling Olbrich “that sounds like a wonderful idea.”

Olbrich concluded his testimony by expressing his deep condolences to family members present during the inquest.

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” he said.

Hawryluk also addressed the family of Taniskishayinew before he sent the jury to deliberate.

“I recognize the family has suffered a significant loss,” he said, adding that “it takes a lot of courage to be here.”

Jason Taniskishayinew shared some memories of his cousin Christopher with SASKTODAY.ca.

“He was comical, he was a good guy,” Jason said, adding that Christopher had challenges throughout his life.

“Before he passed away, he lost his parents, he lost his brother, he lost his whole family - he was the only one left,” Jason explained. “I always tried to bring him along with me, to go and work.”

After six hours of deliberations, the jury returned with their findings, including facts that Taniskishayinew died from asphyxiation due to hanging at 1:23 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2020 in Cell 12, Unit 4B at RPCC. They also presented the following seven recommendations:

To the Province of Saskatchewan Department of Corrections:

  • Create a suicide prevention task force comprised of industry professionals including correctional management, correctional officers, and related health care staff. The task force will consider the underlying mental health issues related to institutional suicide and identify recommendations and amendments to policy and any additional resources with a goal of limiting institutional suicide.
  • That all correctional officers and medical staff be required to participate in suicide prevention training (and re-certification) in courses such as ASIST

To the RPCC Director:

  • Increase mental health care resources for offenders including increased attendance of psychologists/psychiatrists, professional counsellors and the availability of a registered psychiatric nurse on each of the morning and afternoon shifts.
  • That all offenders discharged from suicide watch in the medical unit be released by way of graduated monitoring, which would require more frequent monitoring of the offender in the days following discharge.
  • The case workers will assist offenders in regards to preparing a discharge plan, with the goal of minimizing stress on the offender upon discharge.
  • Establish an inter-institutional help line by way of the current offender phone system. This help line would be available to offenders to access mental health supports in cases of personal crisis (similar to suicide prevention help lines in the community).
  • That prior to discharge from suicide watch, medical unit nursing staff (and optimally the most qualified available nurse) will complete a suicide prevention screening report (the “report”) with the offender. That a copy of a report be provided to the receiving unit’s staff upon the offender’s re-admission to the unit.

rkiedrowski@sasktoday.ca

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