Mental health: Footdragging by prisons

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Mon Sep 27 2010.

We know that an increasing portion of Canada’s prison population has a mental health disorder. We also know that the federal government has given correctional services more than $50 million to provide programs and services for mentally ill offenders. What we don’t know is what they’re doing with the money.

Despite launching its “mental health strategy” six years ago, the Correctional Service of Canada still cannot produce an official document that outlines standards to meet. This “seriously compromises funding, implementation (and) accountability,” states a report released by the Office of the Correctional Investigator last week.

At this rate, “it could easily take decades to fully implement (the) strategy,” says correctional investigator Howard Sapers. Those in federal prison can’t wait that long: their suicide rate is already more than seven times the Canadian average.

That current hodgepodge of services leaves too many inmates falling through the cracks. And, as Sapers points out, lack of proper treatment, while inmates are in prison means they “will be less prepared to cope in the community once they’re released.”

The stated goal of the correctional system is to “contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society” by providing “safe and humane custody and supervision of offenders” while “assisting” in their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.

The correctional service has shown that it has no trouble locking up mentally ill offenders and keeping some in solitary confinement for months on end. It is time to put as much effort into the other half of the job: ensuring that those offenders receive the health services they need so they may emerge in a better state than they went in.

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