Quebec prison deaths rise by 87 per cent: study

By Katrine Desautels, The Canadian Press

Warning: This story mentions suicide

Deaths in Quebec prisons have risen by 87 per cent in 13 years, according to a research report published on Wednesday by a team from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

The research, led by Catherine Chesnay, a professor at UQAM’s School of Social Work, analysed data from the Ministry of Public Security from 2009 to 2022. These showed that 256 inmates lost their lives in provincial institutions during this period.

The research report lists the conditions that have put inmates at risk: dilapidated facilities, overcrowding, numerous transfers, excessive use of isolation, erosion of social ties and the difficulty of maintaining contact with loved ones, as well as a poor quality of physical and mental health care.

The data show that 98 deaths were due to suicide, representing 38 per cent of all deaths recorded. There was a significant increase during the COVID-19 pandemic when prison conditions were particularly restrictive. The report also mentions 411 suicide attempts.

Deaths classified as natural deaths accounted for 33 per cent of the data recorded, and 28 per cent of prisoners died of undetermined causes.

Chesnay said in a press release that regardless of the nature of the death, “every death in prison is one too many.”

She explained that every death “should be systematically recorded and taken into consideration by the prison institution” to prevent other prisoners from dying.

“The lack of transparency and monitoring of deaths in prison, despite the rise in the number of deaths, speaks volumes about the political positioning and lack of rigour with which these events are taken into account,” argued Chesnay.

The Ligue des droits et libertés (The Rights and Freedoms League) denounced the lack of transparency and action by the Ministère de la Sécurité publique. In a press release, it states that it is aberrant that the ministry has not provided any information to explain the classification “death of undetermined cause,” from which 71 people died.

“It is also necessary to understand why so many people attempt suicide while incarcerated,” the organization added.

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The Canadian Press health content receives funding through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial decisions. This report by La Presse Canadienne was translated by CityNews.

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