HALIFAX – The family of a 29-year-old Nova Scotia man who was found unresponsive in a jail cell say his death could have been prevented if he was given proper treatment.
Christine Barnes said Thursday that her nephew, Josh Evans, tried to kill himself at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility on Monday and was pronounced dead at Dartmouth General Hospital.
She said Evans had the mental capacity of a second grader and was missing half of his 22nd chromosome.
“Basically he’s like a seven-year-old boy in a man’s body,” Barnes said.
In a statement, the man’s father, Don Evans, said he plans on hiring a lawyer and taking legal action.
“Someone should have known and cared enough to help him along and keep him safe. When someone goes into custody you expect them to be safe and not end up in the morgue four weeks later,” Don Evans wrote to Global News.
Barnes said Josh Evans was charged with making child pornography available, unlawfully accessing child pornography and three counts of possession of child pornography following a search of a home in Niagara Falls, Ont., in 2015.
While at a detention centre there, Barnes said Evans was diagnosed with velo-cardio-facial syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause different medical problems including heart defects, cleft palate, kidney problems and learning or behavioural issues.
“The signals going into Josh’s brain tend to twist and spin, then his thoughts are altered,” Barnes stated. “I know he had done something wrong, but I don’t think he was aware (that) what he was doing was wrong.”
She said he received counselling and medication, and was also placed on suicide watch. Barnes said he was released four months into his sentence on strict conditions.
Barnes said Evans was again charged with child pornography-related offences after the family moved to Nova Scotia about a year ago. He was also charged with failing to comply with a probation order and failing to comply with a prohibition order.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said Thursday that Evans was on remand and in a transition day room — a space for people with mental health issues or other challenges who do not meet the criteria to be housed in the forensic part of the jail.
“It’s a hybrid space. … We have a group of inmates who have mental-health issues, brain dysfunction, other challenging issues or don’t meet the criteria for the forensic hospital,” he said.
“He was in his cell at the time. He had received medical attention within the facility, but at the time of his death was in his cell in the transition day room space.”
Furey declined to say what the prisoner’s condition was at the time of his death, but said he has confidence in how the Burnside jail operates.
Barnes hopes changes are made to how inmates are processed to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“He should have been in a halfway house or somewhere where he could have one-on-one counselling or be monitored 24-7,” Barnes said.
“I want to know why he fell through the cracks.”