Delay in Pepper Spray Decontamination
**This featured case is one example of the concerns people have brought to us. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.
Rachelle called our office to complain about the way she was treated in the Pine Grove Correctional Centre (PGCC). She said she was sprayed with pepper spray and did not get a shower until 30 hours later.
We listened to Rachelle’s description of what happened, we interviewed staff at the correctional centre, and we reviewed the correctional centre’s policy on pepper spray. Here is what we found:
Rachelle had been involved in a disruption and was placed in the Maximum Security Unit. About an hour after she arrived there, she tied shoelaces around her neck.
Correctional centre staff wanted to take the laces off her neck to prevent her from injuring herself. They also wanted to conduct a search. Rachelle was verbally aggressive and would not comply.
Staff tried to talk with her, and warned her that they would use pepper spray. Eventually, they did just that, and the spray landed on Rachelle’s shoulder and hair. She then went into an epileptic seizure and had to go to the hospital for treatment. Late that night, when she returned from the hospital, she was heavily medicated and staff felt it would be unsafe for her to take a shower, so they let her sleep in the Medical Services Unit.
When Rachelle woke the next morning, she asked for a shower, and was told, “We’ll see.” When she again became aggressive, the shower was postponed. Eventually, she was moved back to the Maximum Security Unit and, later that evening, finally got her shower.
While we recognized that correctional centre staff faced significant difficulties in dealing with Rachelle, 30 hours with pepper spray on the skin is too long. She said there was a burning sensation and red marks on her skin from being sprayed, and that she had difficulty breathing. She noted that staff were complaining about the smell from the pepper-spray residue in her cell.
We also found that our investigation was partially hampered by a lack of information. Based on PGCC policy, a Use of Pepper Spray form ought to have been completed and it hadn’t been, and there was no record of what happened while Rachelle was in the Medical Services Unit.
We reviewed our concerns with the correctional centre and they agreed to take steps to help improve similar situations. Staff would complete the paperwork they are required by policy to complete for a pepper spray incident, so we would be better able to investigate any future complaints of this nature. Also, for aboriginal inmates, the correctional centre would seriously consider bringing in elders to help bring calm in similar situations – and ultimately reduce the need for pepper spray use and improve speed of decontamination.