Psychiatrists Echo Correctional Investigator’s Renewed Call for Better Mental Health Services in Federal Prisons

Attention: News, Health, Medical and Lifestyle Editors

Ottawa, ON, November 1, 2011—The Canadian Psychiatric Association is discouraged that lack of access to mental health services in federal prisons continues to be an area of ongoing concern for the Office of the Correctional Investigator and a major focus of the annual report tabled in Parliament today.

In 2009 and 2010 the Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers, warned the Government that federal penitentiaries are fast becoming our nation’s largest psychiatric facilities and epositories for people with mental illness and that the number of offenders demonstrating serious mental health problems is growing.According to today’s report 38 per cent of male federal offenders admitted to penitentiary require further assessment to determine if they have mental health needs. The same is true for over 50 per cent of female offenders. This far exceeds the prevalence rate of mental illness in general society. The report points out that these figures likely underestimates the problem as mental illness is typically under reported in the prison environment and the data collected does not include a significant range of mental disorders such as cognitive disabilities, attention deficit disorder and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

“We continue to be very concerned with the number of offenders with mental health problems in Canadian prisons and the already limited accommodation strategies for dealing with these offenders” said Dr. Fiona McGregor, President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

Today’s report reveals that although a few important improvements have been made, access to mental health treatment and intervention services in most penitentiaries remains inadequate. Segregation persists all too often as the only alternative for housing offenders with acute mental health symptoms. Despite efforts by Correctional Services Canada to recruit and retain mental health professionals, their numbers remain insufficient. The significant problem of self-injury in federal prisons is poorly managed, lacking clear clinical treatment practices and guidelines that address the use of physical restraints, involuntary treatment and informed consent in a prison setting.

“Prisons were never designed to be treatment facilities. They are not therapeutic settings and are not resourced to provide mental health services to such a profoundly ill population. Unless the issues identified by the Correctional Investigator are addressed, the current situation will only be compounded by the projected increase in prison population, leaving mentally disordered inmates inadequately treated and vulnerable to prison violence due to overcrowding.” said Dr. Stanley Yaren, past president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and a forensic psychiatrist. “As noted by Mr. Sapers, cooperation and coordination between the federal and provincial governments are essential to addressing the significant gaps in service identified by his report.”


The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the national voice for Canada’s 4,100 psychiatrists and more than 600 psychiatric residents. Founded in 1951, the CPA is dedicated to promoting an environment that fosters excellence in the provision of clinical care, education and research.

For information contact:
Hélène Côté
1-613-234-2815 (232)

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