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Evidence ‘disturbing’ in Jennings’ case, St. John's judge says

Justin Jennings, 34, speaks with his girlfriend during an appearance in provincial court in St. John’s Thursday, where he was convicted of three prison assaults and other charges.
Justin Jennings, 34, speaks with his girlfriend during an appearance in provincial court in St. John’s in a file photo. Jennings' sentence has been reduced because of what the judge called 'inadequacy' of staff and procedures at HMP.- Tara Bradbury

Walsh reduces inmate’s sentence due to ‘inadequacy’ of HMP staff, procedures

A provincial court judge had harsh words Thursday about Her Majesty’s Penitentiary and certain procedures of staff.

Judge James Walsh gave inmate Justin Jennings, 34, a reduced sentence due to the conditions he has endured in HMP over the past year. 

Walsh
Walsh

“This case highlights the complete inadequacy of the penitentiary, both for inmates and staff,” Walsh said, calling evidence given by Jennings, HMP assistant superintendent Diana Gibbons and HMP psychologist Sam Martin “disturbing.”

Jennings pleaded guilty to three assault charges, a charge of driving while prohibited and three breaches of court orders in relation to incidents between January 2017 and March of this year.

The assaults happened at HMP and in each one, Jennings appears to suddenly lash out and punch and kick a fellow inmate in the head, unprovoked.

Walsh said the prison failed to protect Jennings and the inmates he assaulted.

The judge referenced a letter sent to prison officials by Martin, saying Jennings was on the verge of a complete mental breakdown and recommending he be removed from segregation immediately, which went ignored.

Medication prescribed to Jennings by one prison psychiatrist after a lengthy assessment at the Waterford hospital was discontinued by another inappropriately, the judge noted. Jennings was denied programming, appropriate contact, and appeared to have been segregated without cause, he said.

Jennings’ own warning to prison staff that he was “spiralling out of control” was ignored, Walsh noted.

“Many of these decisions are affected by the facility itself,” the judge said, adding staff are often limited when it comes to options for dealing with issues arising with inmates. “However, what is there must be used judiciously, fairly, and not excessively.”

Walsh sentenced Jennings to time served, and praised him for what he said was a “noteworthy turnaround” after seeking counselling with Martin, taking up art and journaling and turning to self-help books to learn to manage his anger and anxiety.

Jennings’ lawyer, Ken Mahoney, had argued for time served on the grounds that Jennings had suffered excessive punishment by being held unfairly in segregation while in prison.
Prosecutor Dana Sullivan had argued for a sentence of 10 to 11 months less time served, with no extra credit beyond the standard 1.5 to 2 credit.

Inmates placed in segregation because of their bad behaviour shouldn’t be able to get extra credit beyond the usual, Sullivan said.

More to come.

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