Medications for Prisoners

On May 1, according to a CBC News report posted on May 10th 2016, Bradley Errol Green, a 26-year-old father of three young children and the husband of Rochelle Pranteau, died after suffering an epileptic seizure while being held in custody at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

Mr. Green had been in custody since April 29, charged with allegedly breaching the conditions of a probation order requiring him to not consume alcohol. The probation order stemmed from an earlier finding of guilt in relation to a mischief (under $5,000) charge.

Mr. Green, who suffered from epilepsy, had previously been prescribed medication (to be taken three times daily) in order to prevent seizures. According to Dr. Alexei Yankovsky, a Winnipeg neurologist and epileptologist, “Even missing one dose may activate seizures, sometimes repetitive seizures.”

Yet Mr. Green was not allowed to take his medication while in lock-up.

As with many other individuals held in lock-up, Mr. Green was denied his physician-prescribed medication. A government spokesperson explained the protocol to CBC News: “If the offender is on medication and it can be verified, generally it is continued. If the medication cannot be verified through community health care providers or if there are any potential issues, the offender is booked to see the institutional physician.”

A CBC News followup report, quotes Saul Simmonds, a leading defence lawyer in Winnipeg, who explains, the reasoning behind this policy is based on a concern that medications may not be what they purport to be.

Stephen King, Mr. Green’s cellmate at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, and Ms Pranteau both advised that Mr. Green was quite concerned about his condition, in light of his lack of access to medication.

He feared—quite reasonably—that his health would be jeopardized without his required medication. His death was entirely foreseeable and preventable. And now three children must grow up without their father.

Stepping back to evaluate how this situation came into being, it’s important to recall that, as part of his sentence in relation to the earlier mischief offence, Mr. Green was placed on a court order requiring him not to drink alcohol.

It’s vital to highlight the fact that many people who commit criminal offences deal with mental health issues (whether diagnosed or not), according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Oct 2013.  Additionally, many people who struggle with mental health issues self-medicate with substances like alcohol, narcotics, etc., and would be considered to have addictions issues.

(I’m not meaning to imply that Mr. Green dealt with addictions issues—I am not familiar with his background or case. But I’ve certainly seen a number of offenders with addictions issues set up to fail by being placed on conditions requiring them to abstain entirely from the consumption of their drug of choice.)

Of course, drinking alcohol is not a criminal offence for the vast majority of people in society. In fact, most “law-abiding” citizens indulge in alcohol consumption on a regular basis. (It’s also noteworthy that drinking alcohol is indirectly encouraged and directly facilitated by provincial governments (through provincial liquor commissions).)

But, of course, for someone like Mr. Green, who is placed on unrealistic conditions as part of his earlier sentence, being caught consuming alcohol almost automatically results in time spent in custody. After all, it is viewed as quite aggravating that a court order is being disregarded, as the person is seen as having no respect for the law or the criminal justice system… At the bail stage (if bail is indeed sought), the Crown is therefore more likely to oppose release or to insist on even more onerous conditions if release is to be granted (increasing the likelihood of further breaches). And at the sentencing stage (if the case progresses to this point), the individual is much more likely to receive a custodial sentence.

This seems to overlook the aforementioned (potential) mental health issues.

So, considering all of the policies at play here—sentencing provisions (which led to the imposition of a “no alcohol” condition in the first place), corrections policies (which prevented timely access to necessary medication), bail policies (which would have led to the Crown being reluctant to release Mr. Green)—in essence, Mr. Green ended up receiving a death sentence for having committed the offence of mischief.

This is not from some modern interpretation of Les Misérables; this is a real case—in Canada—from 2016.



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