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EDITORIAL: Not good enough

Camille Strickland-Murphy was a troubled woman. She had mental health issues. She suffered from drug and alcohol addictions.

In desperation, she resorted to criminal acts: holding up drug stores with knives, threatening staff behind the counter.

She broke the law and was sent to jail.

She did not deserve to die there.

On Wednesday, Corrections officials confirmed that Strickland-Murphy died in her cell at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S. She was found unresponsive by staff and could not be revived.

Among those who fall afoul of the law, Strickland-Murphy was a prime example of someone who needed serious help more than harsh punishment. In sentencing her in November 2014 for holding up a Shoppers Drug Mart, provincial court Judge Pamela Goulding made special note of Strickland-Murphy’s mental woes.

She was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive/compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder, and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse.

A previous stint in jail only made things worse.

“During her incarceration the offender was assaulted severely, which resulted in a brain injury,” Goulding wrote in her decision. “She now has hydrocephalus and experiences headaches, fainting and seizures.”

Strickland-Murphy also had strong family support. She lived with her father in June 2014 after her release from prison. He tried his best to keep her off illegal drugs and on her prescription medication.

This is a classic case of the prison system being used to handle cases that are beyond its scope. Whatever treatment Strickland-Murphy was receiving in Truro, it clearly wasn’t enough. In March, she lit her arm on fire and ended up in the psychiatric ward. Why was she not more closely monitored?

It’s especially troublesome since Strickland-Murphy is the second Newfoundland woman to die at the Truro facility this year.

Veronica Park of Corner Brook died in April while serving a three-year sentence. At the time, her family said Corrections Canada was refusing to release details about her death.

In fact, an access-to-information request filed by the CBC revealed that Corrections officials were deliberately ignoring media questions.

This is unacceptable.

Corrections Canada, and staff at the Truro prison, have some major explaining to do. They owe it to these two women, and to their grieving families.

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