Poor conditions at notorious Newfoundland jail prompt judge to cut inmate’s time


A Newfoundland judge reduced an inmate’s jail time after ruling that “harsh conditions” inside a notorious St. John’s facility during the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the inmate’s physical and mental health problems.

The written decision issued Wednesday by provincial Supreme Court Judge Glen Noel grants 27-year-old Jonathan Slade six months of his four-year sentence for crimes including robbery and breach of probation.

Noel said Slade experienced “unusual restrictions and heightened confinement, lack of access to programming, and no or limited access to physical exercise or recreation time” as a result of his incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said Slade’s physical and mental health conditions made him particularly vulnerable.

“Although these measures were intended to protect inmates from COVID-19 infection, their unintended consequence was a negative impact on the mental health, physical health and rehabilitation of inmates, especially for those predisposed by pre-existing conditions, as is the case with Mr. Slade,” he wrote.

Slade was in Her Majesty’s Penitentiary on remand, awaiting sentencing for offenses including two robberies and two probation violations, to which he had pleaded guilty. She had been in custody since September 30, 2020.

Noel sentenced him on June 30 to four years, minus six months for the “particularly harsh pre-sentencing conditions of incarceration” he endured in jail. He was also given credit for the time he spent in pretrial detention, leaving him with about 19 months to go.

The oldest part of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary was built in 1865, and its dilapidated infrastructure has been highlighted in several reports investigating the appalling conditions inside. Noel’s decision includes an entire section devoted to Slade’s descriptions of rodent “infestation” within the facility’s walls and ceilings.

“He describes them running outdoors and having lost their fear of humans, entering beds even when they are occupied,” Noel wrote. “Inmates hang their food from the ceiling while they sleep. Inmates experience rodent droppings on their stored food and personal belongings.”

The judge said Slade suffered from a variety of mental health issues, but pandemic-related health restrictions prevented access to many services. Slade had seen a psychologist only five times in the 20 months he was in jail, Noel said.

The decision says that Slade also spent time in segregation, sometimes because he had acted frustrated and other times because he was suicidal.

“His outbursts weren’t always recognized as mental health related,” Noel said. “During these periods of isolation, whether medical or administrative segregation, (Slade) describes being locked alone in a cell 22 hours a day, experiencing heightened anxiety and panic.”

Slade also has physical disabilities and injuries that have left him with mobility problems and chronic pain, the judge wrote. His injuries left him incontinent and he needs to wear protective undergarments.

He was housed for a time in an older part of the jail where there are no common areas or places for recreation, nor is there enough privacy to discreetly wear underwear, Noel said.

“He became the butt of taunts from other inmates, and even, on occasion, from guards,” the judge wrote. “I think this would have had a particularly profound effect on Mr. Slade’s mental health issues.”

Noel described several other court cases in which inmates said they faced unusually harsh conditions at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.

The provincial government has long promised to replace the jail, and officials said in November that they had chosen a company to submit a proposal for a new 276-bed facility by the end of this year.

In an emailed statement Thursday, a Justice Department spokeswoman said the office is constantly reviewing its own prison policies, as well as those across the country.

“There are well-known infrastructure issues that present a challenge,” Lesley Clarke said of the jail, adding that construction on the new facility is expected to begin next spring.

“Since a Public Health Emergency was declared on March 18, 2020, every effort has been made to prevent COVID-19 from entering our correctional facilities to keep inmates and staff safe,” he said.

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