The ugly truth about prisons and mental health

Many inmates and staff alike suffered physical and mental health problems that led to a loss of sleep, poor concentration and impaired memory. This could have been resolved if funding was put into conditions…

The ugly truth about prisons and mental health

Many inmates and staff alike suffered physical and mental health problems that led to a loss of sleep, poor concentration and impaired memory. This could have been resolved if funding was put into conditions that foster a sense of autonomy and independence.

In Canada, most of the prison population is serving time for non-violent crimes. Many of these people have mental health conditions, resulting in the debilitating consequences of these disorders. This includes depression, anxiety, self-injury, substance abuse and even suicide.

Canada’s provincial governments rely on federal government funding for services offered within their prisons. In their constitutional commitments, each state has a duty to offer a range of programs to offenders in their respective systems. This does not include people who are not convicted, but who are considered a threat to public safety.

All parties understand that providing and maintaining adequate health care services in prisons is among the most pressing obligations under the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) is not currently seeking to engage with affected individuals, correctional staff or families who have concerns about the well-being of those sentenced to jail.

This is of particular concern considering that 90 percent of CSC’s total prison population are incarcerated for non-violent offences. With limited funds, many inmates are not being able to access necessary assistance that could have a positive impact on their lives outside prison.

Simply put, using prisons as health care centres for people living with mental illness, substance abuse issues and disabilities is not a sustainable solution. Instead, programming and services should be offered on a regular basis, so that individuals can rebuild or repair themselves.

As the world becomes increasingly interdependent, it becomes important that states not only ensure security and control over their populations, but also integrate the excluded in their societies. This is central to ensuring that every individual has equal access to the goods and services that communities provide.

Disabled individuals are the most excluded because they are usually denied fundamental human rights, such as the right to dignity, adequate health care, freedom from arbitrary detention and other fundamental rights.

As the world becomes increasingly interdependent, it becomes important that states not only ensure security and control over their populations, but also integrate the excluded in their societies. This is central to ensuring that every individual has equal access to the goods and services that communities provide.

Of course, it would not be wise to advocate for the full decriminalisation of all offences. Even those who engage in non-violent offences should not be forced to live on the cold and uninhabitable floor of a federal prison. This is why the Canadian Prison Service’s recent access to justice statement proved that the federal government views certain violations of prisoners’ human rights as sufficiently egregious to refer it to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO).

As the HRTO conducts a fresh hearing, it will look into various petitions and reviews submitted by members of the public about their direct experience in prisons. Unfortunately, it also has the honour to look into correspondence from those who wish to share their experience with their own voices.

This means that an individual, who wishes to contribute to the HRTO hearing in an essay or a letter, will not be able to do so online or by submitting documents in person. In addition, individuals must send a signed letter of not more than 200 words to the HRTO at 244 Richmond Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M7J 2A1.

Being detained at risk of abuse and suffering for non-violent offences is not a punishment, and the federal government should pay particular attention to creating safe and secure prisons for those who choose to go to jail. While all individuals should have the ability to live in dignity, that duty should be carried out at home, outside of prisons.

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