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Suggestions made after inmate suicides

A coroners' jury examining the suicides of three inmates within seven months at a British Columbia prison has recommended an increase in the number of guards and unscheduled cell checks on the night shift.

The men housed in the segregation unit at Mountain Institution in Agassiz died between July 2012 and February 2013 and were the subject of an inquest this week.

Inquest lawyer Rod MacKenzie said Friday that one guard currently does rounds on the night shift but jurors called for two people to work during those hours.

He said cells are checked once an hour during the day and every half hour at night.

"Checks are every 15 minutes in most institutions," MacKenzie said of the night shift.

"The problem is that one of the fellows, he was checked at 11 o'clock and he may know that he's not going to be checked for another hour. So he's got a whole hour to get up to something."

Jurors at the inquest made seven recommendations that include the installation of larger windows in the segregation cell and sensors in the floor to indicate when inmates get out of bed at night.

The jury also said community hospitals treating inmates should provide escort officers with treatment and intervention information that would be forwarded to health-care staff at the prison.

MacKenzie said jurors also want guards working in the 16 segregation cells to be briefed about the inmates they're dealing with.

"The guards that would be in that 16-cell area would need to know different things than the guards in the general population."

The jury said an intermediate mental health care unit should be created in each region for inmates who don't need longer-term treatment at a facility in Abbotsford.

The inmates who committed suicide ranged in age from 35 to 54.

Robert Allen, 54, died at Chilliwack General Hospital on July 20, 2012 after smothering himself with a towel after securing a plastic garbage bag over his head.

MacKenzie said 35-year-old Kyle Tombaugh succumbed to a brain injury at Ridge Meadows Hospital on Aug. 24, 2012 after hanging himself in the window of his cell.

Joseph Cayer, 49, died in prison after cutting an artery in his neck with a blade he took out of a razor that he'd been given for shaving.

"He took the blade out of it and gave the remains back to the guard," MacKenzie said.

The Canadian Press

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