Saturday, April 02, 2011

prisons in canada - mental health issues

WINNIPEG — The numbers of people with serious mental disorders in Canada's prisons and jails are "higher than they've ever been" and they continue to rise, an Ontario forensic psychiatrist says.
Dr. John Bradford told a national mental health conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday that the problem is not our country's alone — it exists in the United States and around the world.
In North America, the problem has been exacerbated by a trend since 1960 to close down institutions for the mentally ill and treat people in the community. With the advent of certain drugs, that's proved successful for many people, while others have fallen through the cracks, winding up homeless and incarcerated in correctional facilities.
What has happened is provincial facilities for mentally ill people have been closed and the responsibility for treatment has been downloaded to municipalities. However, this has happened without the full funding necessary to do this. There has also been a faulty assumption that people with mental health issues are able to care for themselves in the community. Yes some are; and others can with extra support; but many cannot. 

The problem is, it is very easy to forget about or push aside people with mental health issues. They get marginalized, ignored as much as possible.

I have not done the reseach to check the numbers, but I would suspect that there is a fairly high degree of addictions among people with mental health issues.

The above article, points out that the St. Lawrence Correctional Treatment Centre in Brockville, Ont., near Ottawa, established in 2003, is a 100-bed psychiatric hospital for persons with serious mental disorders who are serving provincial jail sentences. It is for men only. "No such facility exists for women in Ontario. And no such facility exists for men or women in other provinces."

The globe and mail, a couple of years ago, ran a series of articles under the heading "breakdown" on mental health issues in Canada. Check it out for more information on mental health issues.

A report issued in September 2010 by the Office of the Correctional Investigator says:
“The needs of mentally ill offenders in custody exceed the current capacity of the Correctional Service of Canada...
Canadian penitentiaries are becoming the largest psychiatric facilities in the country.” 
Among the recommendations, are that the correctional service should:
  • Fund implementation of its mental health strategy, with a particular focus on intermediate care.
  • Develop mental health service delivery partnerships with the provinces and territories.
  • Enhance its support of the development of a national strategy for corrections and mental health, with a focus on care guidelines.
There are no simple answers. But doing what we have done as a province and country for the last 40 years is not the answer. Nor is condemning those who work in the prison system or mental health field. Sadly, in both fields there are people who have taken advantage of others; but there are also many who work hard and carefully.

Changing systems is never easy. And sadly, it is sometimes the church and christians who are slow to recognize this. In reality, we should be at the forefront of praying for and working for real change, not simply bandaid solutions. This is at both the systemic level and the individual level - getting to know the people in our neighbourhoods and ministering to them.

[part of a series of election 2011 reflections]

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