For Immediate Release

Report finds Serious Gaps in the Planning and Delivery of Mental Health Services for Federally Sentenced Offenders

OTTAWA, September 23, 2010 - The Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) released today an independent report that finds serious funding, implementation and accountability gaps in the delivery of mental health care services in federal corrections.

In releasing the report, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Mr. Howard Sapers emphasized that the needs of mentally ill offenders in custody exceed the current capacity of the Correctional Service. "Canadian penitentiaries are becoming the largest psychiatric facilities in the country. The Correctional Service of Canada assumes a legal duty of care to provide required mental health services, including clinical treatment and intervention," said Mr. Sapers. He added: "In failing to meet this legal obligation, too many mentally disordered offenders are simply being warehoused in federal penitentiaries. This is not effective or safe corrections."

The expert report entitled Under Warrant: A Review of the Implementation of the Correctional Service of Canada's Mental Health Strategy was authored by John Service, PhD, the previous Executive Director of the Canadian Psychological Association and former Chief Operating Officer of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It was commissioned by the OCI as part of its ongoing systemic investigation of offender access to mental health services in federal penitentiaries. Among its findings, the report notes that despite the fact that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) received new funding and launched its mental health strategy six years ago, it was unable to provide a comprehensive and management approved planning document and accountability framework for this initiative. "This lack of an over-arching plan seriously compromises implementation, accountability and evaluation of the CSC's mental health strategy," said Dr. Service. "It is not what one would expect to find in a government department of CSC's size and complexity, especially given CSC's critical public safety mandate."

Consistent with previous OCI assessments, the report points out that the intermediate care component of CSC's mental health strategy has not yet been implemented due to a lack of funding. Falling between primary care and acute inpatient care offered at the Service's five regional psychiatric facilities, intermediate care units would safely manage offenders while in custody and assist their maintaining regular institutional routines. A significant portion of the inmate population that suffers from mental illness is "falling through the cracks" as they do not meet the admission criteria at the psychiatric hospitals. As the report notes, these offenders are often managed in segregation units where they can be isolated for prolonged periods of time. The Correctional Investigator has denounced this practice as unsafe and inhumane.

The report has been shared with CSC. In response, the Service provided a copy of its updated Mental Health Strategy, as approved by its senior management committee in July 2010.

In endorsing the report's key findings, the Correctional Investigator issued five recommendations to the Commissioner of Corrections:

  1. CSC publicly release its updated and approved Mental Health Strategy for transparency and accountability purposes.
  2. CSC immediately commission an independent audit of its management framework and accountability structures for the delivery of mental health services. The results should be made public.
  3. CSC reallocate resources to fully fund the implementation of its mental health strategy, with a particular focus on intermediate care.
  4. CSC expand, explore and develop alternative mental health service delivery partnerships with the provinces and territories.
  5. CSC enhance its support of the development of a National Strategy for corrections and mental health, and work with partners and stakeholders to establish clear guidelines, timeframes and governance structures for implementation by the end of 2012.

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. OCI reports cited in this release are available at www.oci-bec.gc.ca.

-30-

For further information contact:

Ivan Zinger, LL.B., Ph.D.
Executive Director and General Counsel
Office of the Correctional Investigator
(613) 990-2690 or Ivan.Zinger@oci-bec.gc.ca