Mental health must be consideration in prisoner treatment across Canada

A landmark settlement in Ontario may mean improvements in how the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services oversees female inmates with mental illness.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission intervened in Christina Jahn’s case to address the systemic issues that led to her not receiving appropriate mental health services and being placed in segregation.

The Ministry will put in place mental health screening for all inmates, and ensure people who need treatment plans and mental health services have access to them. The Ministry will also train front line staff and managers on mental health issues and human rights obligations.

“The Ontario case should be used as an example for all prisons in Canada,” commented Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. “Prisons are designed to make society safe by containing dangerous criminals and to help restore the majority who should be reintegrated into society as contributing citizens,” May added.

May’s office has been collecting signatures on a petition calling on the House of Commons to review correctional facilities in Canada to ensure all people are provided the same rights as men, and that facilities and programs are designed with the needs of all people taken in to consideration in the same way they are for men.

“Many regions in Canada, including Vancouver Island, lack a correctional or remand facility for women. With no women’s prisons on Vancouver Island, women are held in inferior facilities such as cells in police stations pending trial,” said May. “The Canadian Bar Association has identified this as a problem. Many studies have reported the damaging psychological effects of segregation, particularly on inmates with mental illness.”

Joe Foster, Human Rights Critic for the Green Party reiterated the need to treat prisoners as human beings with the potential for rehabilitation. Foster noted that it is simply bad economics to keep people in jail longer than necessary at a cost of over $100,000 per year.