ST. JOHN’S, NL –
A Newfoundland judge has reduced an inmate’s jail time after ruling that ‘harsh conditions’ inside a notorious St. John’s facility during the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated problems mental and physical health of the offender.
The written decision released Wednesday by Provincial Supreme Court Justice Glen Noel awards Jonathan Slade, 27, six months of his four-year sentence for crimes including robbery and breach of probation.
Noel said Slade had experienced “unusual restrictions and increased confinement, lack of access to programming, and no or limited access to physical exercise or leisure time,” due to his incarceration during the pandemic. of COVID-19. He said Slade’s mental and physical health conditions made him particularly vulnerable.
“While these measures were intended to protect inmates from COVID-19 infection, their unintended consequence has been a negative impact on the mental health, physical health and rehabilitation of inmates, particularly for those predisposed by pre-existing conditions. , as is Mr. Slade,” he wrote.
Slade was at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary on remand, awaiting sentencing for crimes, including two robberies and two breaches of probation, to which he had pleaded guilty. He had been in detention since September 30, 2020.
Noel sentenced him on June 30 to four years less six months for the “particularly harsh conditions of imprisonment” he suffered in prison. He was also credited for the time he spent in pretrial detention, leaving him around 19 months to serve.
The oldest part of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary was built in 1865, and its crumbling infrastructure has been highlighted in several reports investigating the dismal conditions inside. Noel’s decision includes an entire section devoted to Slade’s descriptions of rodent “infestation” inside the facility’s walls and ceilings.
“He describes running around in the open and losing their fear of humans, getting into beds even when busy,” Noel wrote. “Inmates resort to hanging their food from the ceiling while they sleep. Inmates have rodent droppings in their stored food and personal effects. »
The judge said Slade suffered from a variety of mental health issues, but pandemic-related health restrictions interrupted access to many services. Slade had only seen a psychologist five times in the 20 months he was in prison, Noel said.
The ruling says Slade also spent time in solitary confinement, sometimes because he acted out of frustration and other times because he was suicidal.
“His outbursts haven’t always been recognized as mental health-related,” Noel said. “During these periods of isolation, whether medical or administrative isolation, (Slade) describes being locked in a cell alone for 22 hours a day, and he felt increased anxiety and panic. »
Slade also has physical disabilities and injuries that have caused him mobility issues and chronic pain, the judge wrote. His injuries have made him incontinent and he has to wear protective underwear.
He was housed for a time in an older part of the prison where there are no common areas or recreational areas, or enough privacy to use underwear discreetly, Noel said.
“He became the butt of ridicule from other inmates, and sometimes even guards,” the judge wrote. “I find that would have had a particularly profound effect on Mr. Slade’s mental health issues. »
Noel described several other court cases in which inmates said they faced unusually harsh conditions at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.
The provincial government has long promised to replace the jail, and officials said in November they had selected a company to submit a proposal for a new 276-bed facility by the end of this year.
In an emailed statement Thursday, a Justice Department spokeswoman said the bureau is systematically reviewing its own correctional policies as well as those across the country.
“There are well-known infrastructure issues that present a challenge,” Lesley Clarke said of the prison, adding that construction of the new facility is expected to begin next spring.
“Since a public health emergency was declared on March 18, 2020, every effort has been made to prevent COVID-19 from entering our correctional facilities to ensure the safety of inmates and staff,” said she declared.