NUPGE welcomes mental illness corrections report

‘We hope that the federal government acts on this report. In particular, we hope it implements the recommendations to help provincial correctional facilities and psychiatric hospitals.’ – James Clancy.

Ottawa (15 Dec. 2010) – James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), says a new parliamentary report entitled Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Federal Correctional System would be a welcome step forward if implemented.”We have been arguing for many years now that there was a growing crisis that needed to be addressed,” Clancy says.

“There is a growing recognition that how we are treating incarcerated people with mental health issues in this country amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. They should be receiving care and treatment in a hospital or mental care institution.”

The report makes 71 recommendations about working with provincial partners in the correctional system. These recommendations are especially important, Clancy says.

“Our members who work in corrections tell us – and it is confirmed by pretty much everyone – that the problem of people with mental illnesses being incarcerated in provincial facilities is far worse than in the federal system,” he notes.

“We hope that the federal government acts on this report. In particular, we hope it implements the recommendations to help provincial correctional facilities and psychiatric hospitals respond to this problem.”

Clancy cited several recommendations that offer genuine hope for improvement if implemented. They include:

• That the federal government, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, make a commitment to and a serious investment in the mental health system in order to ease the identification of, and access to, treatment for people suffering from mental health and addictions before they end up in the correctional system.
• That the federal government work with provinces and territories in order to ensure that police officers, Crown prosecutors and other key players in the criminal justice system be trained to recognize the symptoms of mental health problems, mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse so that they can direct offenders to the appropriate treatment services.
• That the federal government work with the provinces and territories on early identification of mental health and addiction issues affecting offenders in remand, and secure access to treatment services for them in order to address conditions that are so often precursors to escalating crime and incarceration.
• That the federal government support the creation and funding of more drug treatment courts to divert offenders with addictions to treatment centres and mental health courts to divert those with mental health needs to appropriate services.
• That the federal government support the creation and funding of more community courts to divert offenders with concurrent mental health and addiction issues to appropriate health facilities.
• That the federal government initiate discussions with provincial and territorial governments with a view to establishing partnerships and service agreements with hospitals for the delivery of health care services so that federal inmates have the same access to health care as other Canadians. Such partnerships would also provide continuity of mental health care when inmates are released into the community.
• That the Correctional Service of Canada establish agreements with provincial psychiatric hospitals … to transfer some offenders who are posing a threat to themselves or others and who cannot be treated at regional treatment centres. These agreements should allow correctional staff to be assigned to the facilities during a transfer in order to ensure public safety.

Although he supports the report MP Don Davies, public safety and national security critic for the NDP, feels that it does not go far enough in some areas, especially to end the use of segregation as a method of dealing with mental illness.

“The tragic cases of Ashley Smith and other mentally‐ill individuals in our federal prisons clearly show that there is an urgent need for decisive steps to eliminate the segregation of mentally ill offenders,” he said.

Davies has also expressed concern over whether the federal government will implement the recommendations contained in the report.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

More information:
• Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Federal Correctional System
• Correctional Officers take message to Ottawa
• The mental health crisis in Canada’s justice system
• Front line justice workers focus on the mentally ill

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