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Inmate who died had mental capacity of seven-year-old boy says father (update)

The father of a 29-year-old man found unresponsive in a Burnside jail cell and later died in hospital says he's heart broken
(file photo)

With files from the Canadian Press

The father of a 29-year-old man found unresponsive in a Burnside jail cell and later died in hospital says he's heart broken.

The Department of Justice said staff found the inmate at around 9:30 p.m. Monday and immediately began CPR.

He was taken to the Dartmouth General Hospital where he died Tuesday afternoon.

In an emailed statement to, Don Evans described his son Joshua as a child in a man's body.

Evans said Joshua was born with velocardiofacial syndrome and missing half of his 22nd chromosome.

"He functioned at a grade two level," said Evans. "He was 29 but really on the level of a seven-year-old."

Evans said his son was facing child pornography-related charges involving looking at images on the internet and was known to be a suicide risk.

"He was a scared boy taking the only way out he new," wrote Evans. "Someone should have been checking on him."

Mount Allison University sociologist Ardath Whynacht said an adult with the intellectual capacity of a child should never have ended up in a provincial correctional institution in the first place.

She called the situation tragic, but not unique because those with intellectual disabilities and brain injuries are more likely to be incarcerated.

"And this isn't because a brain injury or intellectual disability makes you engage in criminal behaviour, it's just because the services and supports for folks who need them are not there."

According to Whynacht, the cost to imprison one person at a facility like Burnside can be thousands of dollars a month and she thinks that money could be better spent investing in community organizations to prevent people from ending up in prison in the first place.

"Correctional officers are not educated and trained in a way that's going to allow them to provide the right supports," she explained. "And even if they are really educated and you have an officer who really does care, they're working within systems that don't give them the leeway to provide the supports that they would want to give."

An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

Halifax Regional Police are investigating the incident and the province's justice department will be conducting an internal investigation.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said Thursday that Evans was on remand and in a transition day room.

"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.

Evans said Joshua was a gentle giant who was terrified of people and spent his life at home.

"Someone should have known right away he was different and Josh would have told a doctor or someone there he needed help," Evans wrote.

"This tragedy never should have happened."


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