Former inmate decries psychiatric services at HMP

A former inmate at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's is speaking out because he wants to help improve psychiatric services at the jail.

Doug Squires said he didn't get the help he needed when he was inside HMP.

He said he was an alcoholic and he used cocaine for years, and started stealing to support his habit. Eventually he was caught and sent to HMP, the largest correctional facility in Newfoundland and Labrador.

While inside, he said Dr. David Craig — a psychiatrist who treats many of the jail's inmates — took him off some of the drugs that another psychiatrist had prescribed to treat depression and anxiety that he's battled through his life.

"I was tired of getting so sick vomiting, I started getting these electric shocks going to my head," said Squires of the symptoms he received after being taken off the medication.

After leaving jail two years ago, he said he continued to have nightmares about his time at HMP. He started drinking again.

Six months ago, police were called after his mother found him trying to cut his wrists. He said he was cuffed by the police, and started panicking that they would take him to jail.

"All I was saying was, please don't take me to Dr. Craig, please don't take me down to jail, they're going to torture me. I'd rather be dead than be tortured," said Squires.

Peter Ralph, a lawyer who has clients who have spent time in HMP and who suffer from mental health issues, said some of his clients have been taken off prescribed drugs at the penitentiary.

"It's unimaginable," said Ralph.

"It's hard to imagine if it was diabetes or a heart condition that it would happen. So I don't understand why it would happen when someone is suffering with a mental illness," he said.

"You would think a person would have some power over their care and treatment ... Because they committed a crime, and they need to be punished by a period of time in jail, does that mean they lose the power over their treatment of their illness?"

Ralph said he's been frustrated about the situation, but is encouraged that the provincial government has been looking at the issue, and done an external review. That report is now before the government.

He said he is hoping the government will come up with some recommendations to improve psychiatric services soon.

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