They (Correctional Officers) continue to view offenders bent on hurting themselves as security risks, isolate them, use force — most frequently pepper spray and some form of physical restraint, transfer them to more restrictive facilities to manage their behaviour, instead of taking a mental health approach.
Sapers recommends an outright ban on putting mentally ill offenders and those at risk of suicide or serious self-injury in long term segregation...(from "Mental Health problems treated as security issue in federal prisons, report says," by Tonda McCharles, Toronto Star, October 23, 2012, below)
A similar approach to mental illness is also too frequently being taken in psychiatric hospitals, orchestrated by supervising psychiatrists. Whenever a patient is in serious disagreement with the rules and regulations of the ward, the patient is moved from the "voluntary" status to the "involuntary" status which permits the staff to medicate without the patient's permission.
Security versus mental health represents a kind of contemporary regression in both perception and policy in the treatment of both prisoners and mental health patients.
When security takes precedence, and the patient is conscious of this "reductionism" of his or her personhood and dignity, in support of the concept of "criminality" and "protection of the community" the state, and the health care system are both working "counter" to their purpose...to cure and to support and to rehabilitate.
Standing in parliament and telling Canadians that we are "more than aware" of the mental health problems among prisoners, and then permitting the construction of a padded cell, in 2012, is nothing short of a return to the nineteenth century views, perceptions and treatment models. How long will it be before we have leaders whose perceptions of the people who commit most crimes include their "having demons" in the archetypal and historic sense that they need to be more isolated, that their hospitals need to be farther away from the community, that their treatment needs to be ramped up security measures and fewer treatment and rehabilitative steps.
This criticism of the federal government by the prison ombudsman needs to be front-page news in every town and city in the country and it needs to be debated in the House of Commons, and the Opposition must never back down to the insults from the government that to do so is to fail to see the criminality.
We do not need, and we do not want a "security" apparatus in either the prisons or the psychiatric wards that takes precedence over adequate and appropriate mental health treatment of both offenders and patients, since such an approach serves the needs of the health care workers and security guards over the patients and the prisoners they are both paid to serve.
Here is another example of the federal government seeing the world upside down and putting their (our) money on the wrong horse in the process of further demonizing the criminals for their own political advantage with their vengeful law-and-order base.
Mental health problems treated as security issue in federal prisons, report says
By Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star, October 23, 2012
Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers is pointing to a new and alarming sign Canada’s prison system has adopted the wrong approach to mentally ill inmates: it has built its first padded federal cell.
Built at the federal Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon that serves the Prairie region, the cell was designed to deal with one female inmate who repeatedly injures herself, Sapers said Tuesday.
She is one of a growing number of women and young men — more than 300 last year — who injure themselves behind bars, and one of a dozen especially challenging cases whom guards struggle to handle, said Sapers.
“Every time they escalate their response, she escalates frequency and severity of self injury,” Sapers told reporters at a news conference highlighting findings in his annual report.
In his report, Sapers condemned the decision to deal with the woman and others like her as a security issue, instead of a mental health problem.
Five years after 19-year-old Ashley Smith choked herself to death in a Kitchener prison cell, Sapers said many of the factors at play in her death continue to exist.
His office has reviewed other in-custody deaths “and come across some of the exact same factors” stemming from a “security approach” to the problems.
Although correctional authorities have become better at screening inmates at admission, detecting mental illness and addictions problems, and adapted some staff training policies, Sapers said they haven’t shifted frontline practices.
They continue to view offenders bent on hurting themselves as security risks, isolate them, use force — most frequently pepper spray and some form of physical restraint, transfer them to more restrictive facilities to manage their behaviour, instead of taking a mental health approach.
Sapers recommends an outright ban on putting mentally ill offenders and those at risk of suicide or serious self-injury in long term segregation, and urged Correctional Services Canada to look at transferring offenders who repeatedly harm themselves into mental health facilities in the community, to “reduce risk, preserve life and lessen the emotional burden” on prison staff facing burnout.
Padded cells are “in rare and infrequent use in the community,” said Sapers. “Mental health professionals will tell you that a padded cell is not therapeutic . . . it may just offer some respite, and if you are going to put someone in that kind of environment it has to be under intense medical supervision, for the shortest possible period of time, and the goal must be to move them out of that environment to somehow deal with the underlying causes of that behaviour.
“If you put someone in padded cell they will find a way to do themselves harm,” he warned.
In his eighth annual report, Sapers said the federal prison population — which he pegged at a historic high of 15,400 — is growing because more visible minorities, aboriginal people and women are entering jails than ever before.
Inmates of aboriginal descent make up 21 per cent while black Canadians make up 9 per cent of the overall federal inmate population. “Incarceration rates for these two groups far exceed their representation rates in Canadian society at large,” he added.
In the last five years, the number of women inmates has increased by almost 40 per cent — about 610 women are in federal jails today. Over the past decade, the number of aboriginal women has increased by more than 80 per cent.
“In fact, if not for these sub-groups, the offender population growth rate would have flat-lined some time ago,” Sapers said.
Sapers said prisoners who deliberately harm themselves mostly resort to cutting, but also use head banging, self-strangulation, burning, ingesting harmful objects or other kinds of self-mutilation.
Over the past five years, he said the number of self-harm incidents has almost tripled. Most of the time, it happens in CSC’s five psychiatric centres, the multi-level regional women’s facilities, or in the “austere” confines of Canada’s maximum security jails.
Most of the time, it is women who report a prior history of injuring themselves; 85 per cent were physically abused, and 68 per cent experienced sexual abuse at some point. Young male inmates appear to take up self-harming practices in prison, but also report a history of childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse, he said.
Last year, there were 822 incidents of self-injury involving 304 offenders, including 54 attempted suicides.
Sapers also again reported the federal inmate population continues to grow older and sicker. Now, one in five is 50 or older. Those admitted to federal penitentiaries are “more addicted and mentally ill than ever before,” he said.
He said nearly two-thirds — 63 per cent — report they used either alcohol or drugs on the day of the offence they are jailed for.
“These needs often run ahead of the system’s capacity to meet them,” he said.
In the Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government’s approach.
Harper said the Conservative government is “more than aware” of the mental health challenges in the prison system and is spending “significant” funds to address them. At the same time, Harper chastised Liberal interim leader Bob Rae for questioning it, saying he shouldn’t “trivialize the issue of criminality.”
“It is serious and the government is determined to keep our communities safe. The population expects Parliament to do that,” said Harper.
Kim Pate, of the Elizabeth Fry Society, applauded Sapers’ report, saying it buttresses calls for a national inquiry into the circumstances around Ashley Smith’s death and the treatment of women and aboriginal prisoners in federal system.
Pate said the woman in the padded cell in Saskatoon faces a dangerous offender application “for instances when she has struck out to try and get out of restraints and has hit staff inadvertently or advertently, but clearly while she’s under mental-health care.”
“In a prison setting her behaviour will continue to be seen as symptomatic of her criminality and she’ll keep racking up charges, she’ll keep racking up prison sentences, and, like Ashley, may end up dead.”
Nicole Loreto, a social worker with the Royal Ottawa Hospital, said mental illness should elicit the same response as physical illness.
“An offender with a physical ailment would be treated in a hospital, but a person with mental illness remains in a prison and we think, why don’t they have fundamentally the same right to treatment?”
Loreto said the hospital has concluded that “for every dollar invested in treatment for women, we’d actually save three dollars to provincial and federal governments, in terms of administrative costs, court costs, removing children from their mothers and putting them with a Children’s Aid Society.”