Published On Tue Nov 03 2009
OTTAWA–Too many prisoners in Canada's correctional systems are injuring themselves and others because they're denied proper psychiatric care, corrections watchdog Howard Sapers says.
Sapers, the correctional investigator, released his annual report Monday calling for units to be created for the treatment of prisoners with known psychiatric problems.
"Getting the (correctional) services focus on this is a little bit like trying to stop an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean," Sapers told the Star after the report, with 19 mental health-related recommendations, was tabled in Parliament.
About 10 per cent of all sentenced offenders have a "significant" mental disorder when they are admitted, 80 per cent have a history of substance abuse, and the mental health of as many as a third of inmates deteriorates while imprisoned, Sapers noted.
But it's the 10 per cent suffering from significant mental disorders that Sapers says must be dealt with in a professional setting. There are about 13,000 men and women in Canada's federal institutions.
"One of our key recommendations is that the minister secure funding and direct the correctional service to immediately create what are known as intermediate-care units. These are units within penitentiary that deal specifically with people who are mentally ill," he said in the interview.
"A good example would be those individuals who are engaged in chronic self-harming behaviour or people who are either slashing (their wrists) or using ligatures (to try to commit suicide)."
Sapers said the Ashley Smith case brought this into sharp focus.
Smith, 19, killed herself in 2007 at a Kitchener prison for women after her mental illness went untreated. Guards watched as she strangled herself in a segregation cell.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, also responsible for corrections, told a federal-provincial justice ministers meeting last week in Fredericton he was concerned the mentally ill are ending up in prison.
"This situation is simply not acceptable," he said, adding the justice system needed to work with health professionals to ensure "the mentally ill are treated, rather than incarcerated."