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Deaths in Quebec prisons rise by 87 per cent: study

The badge of a correctional agent at a news conference, inside the Quebec Detention Centre, in Quebec City, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot The badge of a correctional agent at a news conference, inside the Quebec Detention Centre, in Quebec City, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
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Warning: This story mentions suicide

Deaths in Quebec prisons have risen by 87 per cent in 13 years, reveals a research report published 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, analyzed 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 data also showed that 98 of these deaths were due to suicide, representing 38 per cent of all recorded deaths. 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 account for 33 per cent of the data recorded, and 28 per cent of prisoners died of undetermined causes.

Chesnay stressed in a press release that, whatever the nature of the death, "every death in prison is one too many."

She argued that every death "should be systematically recorded and taken into consideration by the prison institution" in order to prevent other inmates from dying.

"The lack of transparency and monitoring of the phenomenon 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," said Chesnay.

Her research report lists the conditions that put inmates at risk: dilapidated facilities, overcrowding, numerous transfers, abusive use of solitary confinement, the erosion of social ties and the difficulty of maintaining contact with loved ones, as well as the poorer quality of physical and mental health care.

The Ligue des droits et libertés (The Rights and Freedoms League) denounced the opacity and lack of action by the Public Security Ministry. 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 what leads so many people to attempt suicide while incarcerated," the non-profit organization added.

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The Canadian Press health content is funded through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial choices. This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Feb. 21, 2024.

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