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ARCHIVED - Report Highlights Dramatic Increase in Numbers of Inmates Mentally Ill Implementation of National Strategy Urged to Address Crisis

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Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada 2004-2005

OTTAWA, November 4, 2005 - The number of offenders in federal penitentiaries with significant, identified mental health needs has more than doubled over the past decade, while mental health services offered by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) have deteriorated, according to the Annual Report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator, tabled in Parliament today. Recent CSC data show the percentage of federal offenders with a diagnosis of a mental disorder on admission rose from 6.8 per cent to 11.1 per cent from 1997 to 2004 - a 61 per cent increase in seven years. In 1997, approximately 10 per cent of all admissions were on prescribed psychotropic medications. By 2004, this proportion had grown to 18.5 per cent - an increase of almost 80 per cent.

"The Correctional Service must act to swiftly and substantively address the serious deficiencies in the delivery of mental health services to this vulnerable group of offenders," said the Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers. He noted that most offenders eventually return to their home communities and that the most recent Statistics Canada data shows in 2003, 61 per cent of offenders received sentences of less than three years, and 92 per cent of less than six years.

"Public safety will be enhanced if we ensure that offenders with mental illnesses are released back in the community having received adequate care. To reduce the likelihood that inmates who are mentally ill will re-offend after they are released, means providing a continuum of care - from assessment, through diagnosis, treatment and timely, supportive transitioning back to communities - safely, effectively and efficiently," he said.

The Report recommends that the CSC secure and commit adequate funding for its Mental Health Strategy and train all front-line staff to appropriately identify disruptive mental health behaviour and respond accordingly. The Strategy, approved by the CSC in the summer of 2004, has languished. No funding has been committed for the three front-end components of the plan: comprehensive clinical intake assessment; improvement to the Service's current Treatment Centres; and intermediate mental health-care units within existing penitentiaries to provide ongoing treatment and assessment during the period of incarceration. Funding secured for the fourth component, community mental health services to support offenders on conditional release, has not yet reached communities.

The Report notes that the overall situation of Aboriginal offenders, a disproportionately high percentage of the penitentiary population, has not measurably improved in recent years. It recommends the appointment of a Deputy Commissioner for Aboriginal Offenders with authority to implement the Service's Strategic Plan for Aboriginal Offenders. To monitor progress, the Report also calls for the release of quarterly reports on the implementation of the Plan, and quarterly performance reports on Aboriginal issues currently being developed by the CSC.

In addition, the Report calls upon the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to appoint an Expert Committee to review and publicly report on the CSC's 10-year status report on the advancement of human rights, fairness and equity issues since Madam Justice Arbour's 1996 Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston.

The Report identifies three pillars for ensuring the federal correctional system meets its objectives of safe and humane custody and supervision of offenders, and assisting the rehabilitation of offenders and their return to the community as law-abiding citizens: the fostering of a strong culture of human rights within the CSC; the need for correctional staff and senior managers to be accountable in the administration of law and policy; and the requirement to assist offenders to ensure their timely safe reintegration into the community.

The Correctional Investigator is mandated by an Act of Parliament to be an independent Ombudsman for federal offenders. This work includes ensuring that systemic areas of concern are identified and addressed. To access all of the findings and recommendations contained in this year's Annual Report, as well as the Correctional Service of Canada's response to it, visit www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

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For further information:

Nathalie Neault
A/Executive Director
Office of the Correctional Investigator
Tel: (613) 998-6960