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Inmate speaks out against alleged abuse of mentally ill prisoner at Pine Grove

Sharise Sutherland advocates for vulnerable prisoner

Warning: Some may find the details in this story disturbing

PRINCE ALBERT – Twenty-six-year-old Sharise Sutherland is currently on remand awaiting trial on two first-degree murder charges from two separate incidents in 2019. Now she is advocating for vulnerable inmates and conditions at Pine Grove Correctional Centre for women in Prince Albert.

Becoming a voice for 21-year-old Métis inmate Joline Jacques - who suffers from mental illness – Sutherland told on Saturday that she is concerned about the abuse Jacques is suffering at the hands of guards.

Jacques was allegedly pepper sprayed, tear gassed, stripped naked, and forced by eight guards into a cold shower where she was left all night until she turned blue.

“I see what she is going through,” said Sutherland. “She has been in segregation [solitary confinement] 41 days and that’s not something they usually do here because there are only a particular number of days allowed,” said Sutherland during a phone interview Dec. 18.

Prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement is prohibited under the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners, which describes it as torture.

Ontario’s highest court placed a hard cap on solitary confinement in prisons, saying inmates can't be isolated for more than 15 days because that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Before being put into solitary confinement on Nov. 7, Sutherland said Jacques was stripped naked, and forced by eight guards – in front of other inmates - into a shower where she was left on the cold cement floor the rest of the day and all night.

“They left her there overnight with no clothes,” said Sutherland who is also currently in the segregation unit.

“She was freezing cold. Her skin started to have a bluish tinge; her lips and nipples. This ain't a warm place, it’s never a warm place in here. It’s all cement. It’s extremely cold in here all the time with our clothes on, with being dry, and they did this to her.”

Sutherland said the guards are constantly charging Jacques, which adds more time for her in solitary confinement.

“They just keep putting her on red card.”

When a prisoner is red-carded they are considered high security so when they come out for an hour a day they are shackled full body.

“They keep putting her on that and taking her off and charging her just to keep her there.

“She gets antagonized,” she added. “They prick and prod at her and they laugh at her and make fun of her to the other inmates.

“When she sticks up for herself and says ‘why are you saying those kinds of things?’ they will find some little reason to charge her for being aggressive, but she’s not, she is just informing them she knows what her rights are and doesn’t have to sit there and be treated like shit.”

Sutherland said the guards will not let Jacques call a lawyer and have taken away her privileges.

Jacques is waiting to be transferred to Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford for mental health treatment but, Sutherland said, the guards constantly add more charges, which delays her transfer to the mental health facility.

Mentally ill inmates treated worst

Sutherland said since she has been at Pine Grove for the last two years, she sees mentally ill inmates treated the worst.

“They [guards] really need to try and formally resolve things instead of just charging them and keeping them segregated. It’s not healthy. It’s not even healthy for someone with no mental health problems let alone someone with mental health problems.”

Sutherland said guards are supposed to use least restrictive measures first to resolve problems with inmates.

“That’s not how it is in here. They automatically put you in your cell and isolate you and charge you.”

She said Jacques doesn’t have much of a criminal history and wasn’t involved in street gangs.

“She is not involved in anything like that. She was homeless when she was out there. She is not a terribly bad person. She is not. People just assume that people going through this are bad inmates but she’s not. She’s just a woman in this position because she has mental health problems and they are doing this to her, over punishing her, when it could have been worked out informally with things they are supposed to be doing.

“What is that doing to our people coming in here,” asked Sutherland who is an Indigenous woman who suffers the effects of inter-generational trauma. “It’s making them worse off than when they entered the prison. They shouldn’t be able to treat our people like this.”

Mental illness strikes a chord with Sutherland

Seeing the mentally ill being mistreated troubles Sutherland.

She said she has noticed that inmates with mental health problems are more likely to end up in segregation with limited outside contact and their privileges stripped from them rather than getting the help they need.

“I witnessed that many times in here. Women with mental health problems get the shitty end in here. My biggest pet peeve is they bring these women with mental health issues in here."

Last year, Sutherland went on a hunger strike for several weeks to protest conditions at Pine Grove.

Indigenous right's advocates call for guards to be fired reached out to Kim Beaudin, vice-chief for the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) Saturday about Jacques' situation. CAP said they would investigate. Beaudin was able to speak with Joline at Pine Grove and is now calling for the guards involved to be fired.

“Abuse of Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s provincial correctional system must be met with consequence,” said Beaudin.

“Joline, like all inmates, deserves to be treated with dignity, and the correctional officers responsible must be fired. Time and time again, Canada’s provincial correctional centres fail to provide Indigenous peoples with basic human rights and safe custody."

CAP's provincial counterpart the Association of Métis, Non and Status Indians of Saskatchewan (AMNSIS), also condemned Jacques’ alleged mistreatment.

“Joline has not been found guilty of an offence. In Saskatchewan, the remand rate for Indigenous peoples is double that of non-Indigenous peoples," said Charlene Lavallee, AMNSIS president.

Indigenous women now account for 50 per cent of women in federal custody, according to Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada.

Provincial Ministry of Corrections responds

Saskatchewan Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety was contacted for comment about the allegations.

Spokesperson Noel Busse said the primary concern in any of the province’s correctional facilities is the safety and security of staff, offenders and the facility itself.

“While we are unable to speak to incidents involving specific inmates, when allegations like this are made, the ministry reviews the circumstances internally to ensure proper processes and policies are being followed,” said Busse on Wednesday.

In response to the issue of Jacques’ mental illness, Busse said inmates have complex and varied health needs that require significant and extensive health care services.

“Facility staff and public health authorities work to ensure offenders receive appropriate care.”

He added that the ministry has health professionals on a contract basis or through the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to meet the health and mental health needs of inmates.

“The ministry works to ensure all people are treated fairly in the criminal justice system,” said Busse. “Our Code of Conduct requires corrections staff to actively work to ensure everyone in the correctional system is afforded dignity and respect.”

Saskatchewan’s policy on segregation in its provincial correctional centres state that segregation may be used as a last resort and for no longer than 10 days for a single offence.

Still no mental health help for Jacques 

On Wednesday, Beaudin said that Jacques was moved from segregation into a gang unit and she is not a gang member.

Story updated to reflect that Indigenous women make up 50 per cent of prison population.

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