Family wants answers after woman dies in Saskatchewan prison
Published Wednesday, January 23, 2013 4:12PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 23, 2013 8:14PM EST
The Elizabeth Fry society -- a group that works with women in prisons -- is raising questions regarding the death of a Saskatoon woman, who died while serving time at a local psychiatric centre.
Kinew James, 35, died on Sunday after being found unresponsive by guards in her cell at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon. She was taken to hospital where she later died.
Now her family wants answers.
“I’m really angry. I want to know what it was like for her,” James’ sister Cheryl said.
The society talked to fellow inmates about James’ death and was told that she complained of breathing problems and pushed the assistance button in her cell at least four times.
The centre’s staff talked to James and told her to drink water and wait for the nurse, the inmates said.
"When the nurse did come she apparently looked in the cell, closed the mail slot -- looked through the mail slot again and then left. And when she eventually did come back to check, she told Kinew to drink some water, which she did,” Kim Pate, the national executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
James went quiet for some time and when staff went into her cell they found her unresponsive. James was taken to hospital where she died.
An autoposy for James came back inconclusive, but Saskatchewan’s chief coroner said more testing will be done.
Now the Elizabeth Fry Society wants an investigation to see if correctional staff handled the situation appropriately.
"What we need to find out is, was it timely enough, could something have been prevented, or was this a natural death," Sue Delanoy of the Saskatchewan Elizabeth Fry Society said.
Correctional Services Canada said they are investigating the case with police. It says that whenever the assistance button is pushed by an inmate it is considered a legitimate and serious distress call, and should be handled accordingly.
“Designated staff are expected to respond to these alarms in accordance with established procedures,” CSC said in an email to The Canadian Press.
The procedures state that when an assistance button is pushed, guards must verify the well-being of the inmate before disabling the alarm.
James had been serving a 15-year sentence for manslaughter, assault, uttering threats, arson, mischief and obstruction of justice. She was set to be released this summer. Her family said she had plans to attend university in the fall.
James’ death comes as the second inquest into the death of Ashley Smith continues.
Smith, strangled herself at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007. Guards were ordered not to intervene and instead watched Smith tie strips of cloth around her neck from outside her cell.
With a report from CTV Saskatoon’s Joh Baglieri files from The Canadian Press