Policies and procedures for checking on the health of prisoners at the Thompson RCMP detachment changed substantially between 2008, when a 37-year-old Cross Lake man died of bacterial pneumonia while being held in the drunk tank, and the Feb. 1 death of a 44-year-old woman who was arrested for being intoxicated.
Many of those changes were made following the July 19, 2008 death of Jeffrey Mallett, who may have been dead for six to 10 hours before a police officer realized it.
Currently, prisoners in the detachment’s three drunk tanks and 11 holding cells, are supposed to be physically checked every 15 minutes on a staggered basis – i.e. 1 a.m., 1:15 a.m., 1:28 a.m., 1:48 a.m., 2:01 a.m. – and those lodged in the drunk tanks must be awakened every four hours to determine their state of health. The 44-year-old woman who died Feb. 1 was alive when last checked at 10:49 p.m. and found dead at 11:08 p.m., slightly longer than the 15-minute interval the policy calls for.
At least two of the eight full-time and 15 casually employed detachment guards are on duty at any given time, with one or two extras called in due to operational needs or the volume of prisoners.
Prior to being lodged in any of the cells, prisoners are medically cleared at either the Thompson General Hospital or in the cell black by Thompson Fire & Emergency Services personnel.
In addition, detailed log books are kept detailing when the prisoners were lodged, what they are doing when physical checks are made and when they are provided meals. Additional cameras were also installed to eliminate blind spots that existed at the time of Mallett’s death and a prisoner assessment checklist for officers and guards put up on a wall near the cell block area guard station, which is also equipped with monitors connected to closed circuit video feeds from all the drunk tanks and holding cells.
Most of those changes were made prior to a 2014 inquest into Mallett’s death, though the requirement to medically clear prisoners prior to lodging them was one of two recommendations made by Justice Doreen Redhead.
Staff Sgt. Chris Hastie, the acting officer-in-charge of the Thompson RCMP detachment, says prisoners stay at least eight hours if they are detained under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act and usually a few days at most if they are being remanded into custody or brought from pre-trial detention in The Pas for court hearings in Thompson. An arrested person must be released within 24 hours unless they have an in-person or phone hearing with a justice of the peace. From the time they are brought into the detachment via one of two vehicle bays, prisoners are always on video and their belongings are noted and stored in a large bin, with more valuable items such as money or jewelry and electronics recorded and stored in plastic bags.
Redhead's other recommendation following the inquest into Mallett’s death was that Thompson establish a detoxifying centre similar to what is offered through the Main Street Project in Winnipeg. When intoxicated persons are brought to the Main Street Project, they are initially examined by a paramedic, who can then either admit them or have them sent to hospital for treatment if necessary. Their medical histories are also taken during initial interviews and they are physically checked every 10 minutes until they are sober enough to be released, at which time they are given a sandwich, a drink, a phone call and a brochure outlining the addictions services that the Main Street Project offers.
Thompson mayors, councillors and administration have long lobbied the province to help them establish a Main Street North and continue to do so.
“We’re hopeful to make some progress on that front," city manager Anthony McInnis said at the Feb. 13 meeting of the city’s public safety committee.
As of noon Feb. 21, about 984 prisoners had been lodged in Thompson RCMP cells so far this year.