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November 10, 2005


The 2004-5 Correctional Investigator's Report was tabled in the House of Commons this week together with the Correctional Service's response. To read the Report and the Response click here.

The Correctional Investigator is mandated by the Corrections and Conditional Release Act 1992 to be an independent Ombudsman for federal offenders. This work includes ensuring that systemic areas of concern are identified and addressed.

The 2004-5 Report identifies three pillars for ensuring the federal correctional system meets its objectives of safe and humane custody and supervision of offenders, and assisting the rehabilitation of offenders and their return to the community as law-abiding citizens: the fostering of a strong culture of human rights within the CSC; the need for correctional staff and senior managers to be accountable in the administration of law and policy; and the requirement to assist offenders to ensure their timely safe reintegration into the community.

This year's annual report pays particular attention to the plight of mentally ill prisoners. In his report, Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers said that the federal prison system is leaving mentally ill inmates untreated, violating their rights and endangering public safety because it has not put money into dealing with a huge increase in their numbers. According to the prison ombudsman. "the number of inmates with "significant, identified mental health needs" has doubled over the past decade, but treatment services have declined. "The level of mental health services is now seriously deficient." The report concludes that Correctional Service Canada has developed a plan to deal with the problem, but does not have money to put most of the changes into place.

"The Service has developed an action plan filled with desirable commitments and timelines, but we anticipate little or no progress as the Service has admitted that it does not have a matching funding plan . . " the report states.

Judges and coroners have criticized Ottawa in rulings and inquest reports for failing to provide proper treatment, and for ignoring court-ordered treatment for convicts.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Mr. Sapers said CSC must recognize it has a serious problem that must become a priority. It must train staff to deal with mentally ill inmates, hire more psychiatrists and other professionals, and double the 600 to 700 treatment beds available for acute cases. In all, about 12 per cent of federal inmates are seriously mentally ill, Mr. Sapers said, while the system is able to deal with only half of them. Leaving mentally ill patients untreated violates their legal and moral right to health care, he said: "It's also a real public-safety imperative and it's also a very cost-effective way of approaching the problem."

Although CSC has a four-part plan to deal with the problem, it has funded only one of the parts: for offenders who are on parole. Alex Swann, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, said money allocated for that in the last budget, $30-million over five years, or about $6-million a year, is a "good start." But he offered no indication of when the government would put money into dealing with the larger problem.

The rising number of mentally ill inmates has coincided with provinces deinstitutionalizing their mental-health systems, Mr. Sapers said. Penny Marrett, chief executive officer of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said in a statement that Mr. Sapers's report underscored a Senate committee's finding that prisons "have become warehouses for the mentally ill due to funding cuts and closures in community psychiatric facilities. Often, acute mental illness, especially untreated mental illness and efforts to "self-medicate" through drug or alcohol abuse, can be factors that led to the inmate's criminal offence, Mr. Sapers noted. "It's a matter of addressing that part of their crime cycle." Two-thirds of federal inmates are released within three years, so it is important for the prison system to identify mental illness quickly and treat inmates so their mental health will be improved when they are released, he said.

"Unfortunately the typical response is that the illness is either not disclosed or not recognized at intake. Their medication regime, if they were on one, is interrupted. There may be a huge, long lineup for access to a clinician, a psychiatrist or psychologist. . . ."Many of these individuals don't go into these specialized programs. . . . They may then act out in such a way that they're considered to be a security risk." Then their security classification may be increased, which decreases access to programs, he said.

To learn more about the role of the Correctional Investigator see Justice behind the Walls Sector 6 or click here.

Michael Jackson