Advocates call for empathetic police practices after Fredericton woman left stranded by jail staff

serena-woods

Advocates call for empathetic police practices after Fredericton woman left stranded by jail staff

Serena Woods had to hitch a ride from a gas station outside Miramichi to Moncton, then to Fredericton, after correctional staff left her at the side of the road over the Family Day weekend. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

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New Brunswick’s ombudsman is questioning why a woman was recently left stranded by correctional staff outside a gas station with no way of getting home.

Serena Woods was in police custody for panhandling and spent the night in a Fredericton holding cell because she couldn’t pay $200 in fines. The following day, she was transported to the New Brunswick Women’s Correctional Centre in Miramichi and almost immediately released.

Woods was then left at a nearby gas station 200 km away from her home, with less than $20 in her pocket and no way of getting home.

“I had nobody to come pick me up, they just drove me to … the gas station and pointed in the direction of which way I should hitchhike,” she told CBC News.

Serena Woods was left to find her own way home from jail

 

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Though certainly no stranger to living life on the margins, Serena Woods of Fredericton says there was no need of the way she was treated by Fredericton police, and sheriffs at the women’s prison in Miramichi. When she was found to have an outstanding small fine she couldn’t pay.Fredericton police drove her all the way to Miramichi to be jailed. After being turned over to sheriffs, they then decided she’s “served her time,” and would be released. 1:18

Ombudsman Charles Murray says officials should have responded to the distress Woods was in and could have reached out to government or volunteer agencies that could have helped.

“People need to just take off their hats as employees and put on their hats as New Brunswickers, or as human beings, and say, ‘What can we do now?'” he tells The Current‘s guest host Laura Lynch.

He’s considering an investigation into the incident and says the province needs to do better to ensure the safety and proper treatment of people in custody.

Going beyond protocol

Murray says it’s not being soft on crime to treat people with humanity “in a way that reflects our values as a society.”

“It’s not about the criminal. It’s about who we are as a people.”

He applauds the truckers who offered Woods a ride home late at night.

“It’s not their job to transport this woman but they saw a person in need. And they stepped up,” he tells Lynch.

“The disappointing thing in this case is that the people we employ as a province to look after these people didn’t see their duty in the same way.”

‘Everyone forgets the bad things that happen to people, well I don’t forget,’ said trucker Victor Poirier, who gave Serena Woods a ride to Fredericton from Moncton. (CBC )

In a statement sent to The Current, the New Brunswick’s Ministry of Justice and Public Safety said: “Upon completion of sentence staff within the facilities work with inmates on discharge planning. We can not keep them an extra day or extra time, this is true whether they are in jail one night or two years.”

In addition, they said correctional staff can offer assistance connecting the inmate with family of community resources and “if an inmate cannot develop a transportation plan, the correctional facility will transport him or her to a central transportation location within the community, for instance to a bus station.”

While standard protocol was being followed to transfer Woods to Miramachi, Murray argues Woods could have been spared the distress of being left outside far from home if someone made a phone call to the facility to discuss how to handle her situation.

“Had that call been made, the people in Miramachi would have quickly confirmed she will now get credit for that time served and be released immediately,” he says, adding that he intends to follow up with the department about why that call wasn’t made.

New Brunswick Ombudsman Charles Murray argues treating people ‘with humanity that reflects our values as a society’ is not an example of being soft on crime. (CBC)

Murray tells Lynch the government needs to create a culture that fosters empathy — a culture, he says, “where people feel that they have empowerment to do the right thing — to do the thing as human beings that they feel should be done — and that the department will back them when they do that.”

Punishing the poor

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