Canada's jailhouse secret: Legally innocent prisoners are dying

August 4, 2017
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Nearly 270 people have died in Canadian provincial jails over the past five years. Two-thirds of them were legally innocent.

The high number of deaths among prisoners awaiting trial, compiled by Reuters from data provided by provincial governments, is the result of some of the world's toughest bail practices that have led to overcrowding in jails, according to lawyers, prison officers and prisoner rights advocates.

While the growing population of prisoners awaiting trial has been well documented, the disproportionate death toll in provincial jails has not. (Graphic on deaths and assaults in Canadian jails:

Provincial governments declined to identify the dead, citing privacy concerns. Interviews, inquest documents and news reports, however, show the deceased prisoners awaiting trial ranged from young parents who had breached bail conditions to people with chronic mental illness jailed for uttering threats; from accused murderers to addicts jailed for theft or drug-related charges.

Reuters examined deaths in provincial jails from January 2012 through July 2017 for seven of 10 Canadian provinces. Of the remaining three, one had no deaths and the other two did not provide data broken down by custodial status. The review found that 174 people died in provincial jails while awaiting trial, compared to 80 who died while serving sentences.

These figures are high even when one takes into account the disproportionate number of pre-trial detainees in jails: People awaiting trial comprised 56 percent of all inmates in these provinces over that time period, but 65 percent of the dead.

"Canadians are dying in prisons here in Canada on a regular basis and it gets very little attention," said lawyer Kevin Egan, who represents several inmates suing Ontario's provincial government over conditions in their jails.  

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