Details about the mental state of an inmate at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary who committed suicide in his cell in November 2012 came to light during the second day of the inquest into his death.
The current chief of psychology at the Sask. penitentiary, Teresa Fehr, said Andy Allen Brassard had been on suicide watch before he arrived but was not placed back on once at the facility.
Brassard had previously tried to kill himself by jumping out of a moving car. He’d been drinking and on drugs at the time.
She also said he’d been medicated for ADHD when he arrived.
In their first meeting before Brassard was processed into the penitentiary, she said he had been agitated, distracted and fidgety. He had anxiety about life inside and out of the prison. His biggest concern was being left alone and asked to be kept with the inmates he had arrived with.
Fehr referred Brassard to their psychiatrist to make an expert opinion.
During that meeting with Dr. Mohammed, the chief psychiatrist, and Brenda Piper, the penitentiary’s mental health nurse, Brassard was described as restless though not aggressive.
Piper said Brassard wanted more drugs. When his request was denied by Dr. Mohammed, he walked out of the meeting.
The antipsychotic drug Seroquel was not on a list of approved medications for inmates. A request was placed for it to be approved, but it was rejected.
It was Piper’s understanding that since Seroquel was prohibited, and Brassard’s prescription was discontinued. A jury member asked if there could be any serious side effects after stopping the medication. Piper said she didn’t remember any major withdrawal symptoms.
Dr. Mohammed’s notes indicated Brassard was not a suicide risk. However, he wrote Brassard reported hearing the thoughts of the other inmates.
Another appointment was scheduled four months from this last meeting. Brassard committed suicide before they had a chance to meet again.
He was listed with having Anti-Social Personality Disorder.
Piper wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis.
“Anyone in a prison has (Anti-Social Personality Disorder),” she said. “That’s often why they’re in prison.”
Warden Jason Hope was the final witness of the inquest. He shed light on why Brassard was in the segregation wing.
Brassard had gotten into an altercation while in general population and was sent to segregation. Upon getting out, he got into another fight and was sent back.
The big question
During the first day of the inquest, the recurring question had been whether corrections officers had proper CPR, first aid and suicide-prevention training. The big question of the second day was whether Sask. penitentiary had enough staff to deal with patients’ mental problems.
Fehr said the penitentiary has never run with a full staff of psychologists. She also said the amount of paperwork required for the job sometimes gets in the way of dealing with patients.
At the time of Brassard’s suicide, there was a weekly psychiatric clinic. Now it only takes place once a month.
There are also no overnight psychologists. A member of the coroner’s jury asked Fehr what would happen if an inmate required attention at night. She said the inmate would be taken into an observation cell for their own safety.
On the first day of the inquest, corrections officers said at the time of the incident they had undergone two days of suicide prevention training and then had a refresher course once every two years.
Now, they take a two-hour online course and one-hour refresher course in person every year.
The coroner questioned Hope about why suicide prevention training had seemingly been reduced after the incident.
Hope said that the online training presents real-time scenarios that trainees have to deal with, rather than situations laid out in a book. He said it was “more situational and real” and “reduced time and upped quality”.
The change in suicide prevention training was one of several changes that followed an investigation after the suicide. As well, procedures in the segregation wing were altered, such as changing the panel that lets guards open individual cell doors.
“It was a unit I wasn’t really happy about,” Hope said, which led to a redesign of the wing.
Now that all of the evidence has been presented, the coroner’s jury will spend time in the jury room to decide what their recommendations will be.