John Howard Society waiting for more details before drawing conclusions after 3rd in-custody death at corrections facilities in Prince Albert

Prince Albert SK Photo: Bradley Ruszkowski

The head of the John Howard Society said it’s tragic to see three in-custody deaths at correctional institutes in Prince Albert so far this year, but they’re waiting for more details before drawing any conclusions.

Since the beginning of 2024, Pine Grove Correctional Centre has reported two in-custody deaths, while the Saskatchewan Penitentiary has reported one. Police have charged multiple inmates with second degree murder in the Sask. Pen death, but foul play is not suspected in the two Pine Grove Deaths.

John Howard Society CEO Shawn Fraser said the organization has faith the investigation process.

“It is a thorough, thorough process,” Fraser said. “While we don’t know all the details right now, we hope and presume that that process will play out and get to the bottom of what happened in each case.

“It’s a tragedy,” he added. “There is just not anything good to say about. It’s bad for everyone involved and our hearts go out to all those people.”

Fraser said that each person who passed away had a real family and loved ones outside the prison walls. He added that the deaths will have an impact on the victims’ loved ones, corrections officers, and other inmates.

Fraser said it is difficult to know all the details because the process is not publicly shared.

“There’s always a hole left behind when someone passes, especially when they die prematurely,” Fraser said.

“The hole that’s left behind in a community that can be very hard to heal, so firstly, we are thinking of people’s families.

“We recognise that when there’s a death in a prison, it also affects the people that work in the prison. It’s very, very complicated, no doubt for people that work at the prison, if that’s administrators or guards, it’s not an easy job they do, and this can be a traumatic thing for them too.”

The most recent in-custody death occurred at Pine Grove Correctional Centre on Thurdsay.

A 24-year-old female inmate on remand was found unresponsive on a living unit at Pine Grove Correctional Centre at approximately 4:10 p.m. Corrections staff initiated life saving measures and called EMS.

EMS transported her to the hospital, where she was declared deceased at approximately 5:21 p.m.

Tatiana Custer was found unresponsive in a common area at Pine Grove Correctional Centre on Jan. 3 while on remand. She was pronounced dead at around 2:05 p.m. after being transported to Victoria Hospital.

In mid-January Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte called for an inquiry following the death of Custer.

In both cases in Pine Grove the Prince Albert Police Service and the Saskatchewan Coroners Service were notified and began investigation. The Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety will also be conducting an internal investigation.

No foul play is suspected in either death.

An inmate serving a nearly three-year sentence in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary died in custody on Jan. 29.

Rocky Meechance’s death is currently under investigation, but six inmates have been charged with second degree murder. Another inmate was taken to Victoria Hospital with serious injuries. Three inmates have been charged with attempted murder in that case.

Meechance was serving a two-year, 11 month, and 18 day sentence for multiple charges, including fleeing from a peace officer, obstructing a peace officer, and breaking and entering with intent to commit an offence. He began serving the sentence on Aug. 15, 2022.

Fraser said each case and circumstance is unique. Without further investigation, he said it’s too early to say what could have been done to prevent them.

“It’s hard to pin down exactly what the cause is, but at the end of the day, we need to remember that we have a prison system that’s both punitive and restorative,” he explained. “Almost everyone who enters the Canadian prison system will eventually be back in society at some point.”

Fraser added that there needs to be resources available when people leave prison so that people do not end up back in jail. He explained that the John Howard Society wants to make sure prisons, particularly in Saskatchewan, are places where people can come out and be productive members of society.

“We just need to remember that while there’s a stigma around people who are in prison,” he said. “The reality is that no one in Canada goes to prison for a death sentence. It’s a tragedy on the inside, just as the same as it would be on the outside.”

The John Howard Society of Saskatchewan provides prevention, intervention, support services, and advocacy for individuals who are at risk or are involved in the criminal justice process.