2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 24
Monday, December 9, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, before I came to this place, I was naive, even though I was a lawyer, to think that there would be a way to get help for a person suffering a mental disability. We heard from the Correctional Investigator who said there are more mentally disabled people in jails than in our hospitals. We have at this time, and it is a fact, more mentally disabled people in jail than in hospitals. They are not getting help. Are we going to send more mentally disabled people to jail because they can’t afford $100 to pay the surcharge?
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Senator, as you know, inmates who need psychological help can get treatment in prison. The Correctional Service of Canada, which manages the country’s prisons, must ensure that those who are ill receive the appropriate treatment, no matter what the illness may be.
Senator Jaffer: I appreciate the leader’s response, and I don’t expect him to know everything required to answer my question, but my understanding is that there isn’t psychological help in prisons and that people with mental disabilities do not receive the help they need.
I would ask the leader to provide information on the exact help that exists in prisons for people who have mental disabilities. What professional help exists for these people?
Senator Carignan: Senator Jaffer, as I said, our government takes the issue of mental health in prisons very seriously. Since 2006, we have improved access to mental health treatment and to training for correctional officers in prisons; sped up mental health screening; created a mental health screening strategy for inmates; expanded mental health counselling; and improved staff training.
We have also allocated additional resources to ensure that all inmates are given a mental health assessment in the first 60 days of their sentence. Clearly, prisons are not the ideal place to treat mental illness. However, we will continue to work with our provincial partners to keep our communities safe and to provide access to treatment for those who need it.
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, on paper that sounds excellent, but the reality is that within the prison system, it is like a revolving door. Health care professionals dealing with mental health and mental illness are being hired by Corrections Canada but they’re not staying. They’re not staying because once they get into the system there are not enough resources for them, so they’re staying a short time and then leaving. From everything I have read, it is a revolving door, and that’s truly unfortunate because many of those who are in prison suffer from poor mental health.
In response to the question by my colleague on the numbers, I know you read all the things that sound great on paper, but could you give us an indication of how many people are working at the various facilities around the country? You may not have that information today, but I would like to know how many people are working in the field of mental health and mental illness in the prisons across Canada.
Senator Carignan: Are you referring to federal penitentiaries or provincial institutions? I do not know where you are getting your information to the effect that there is high turnover or a revolving door. Resources are allocated to screening for mental health problems. We have created a mental health strategy for inmates in order to provide psychological support. Staff training in penitentiaries has been improved. A wide range of stakeholders are trained to respond to and prevent mental health problems.
Senator Cordy: Thank you. I am referring to federal institutions. Could you give us an indication of how many people in the field of mental health and mental illness are working at the federal institutions? I wonder if you could also give us numbers for the past five years of how many people have been recruited for the federal institutions to work with the prisoners in the field of mental health and mental illness, and also the retention rates for the past five years for the federal institutions related specifically to mental health and mental illness.
Senator Carignan: It is very difficult to give a precise answer to your question. As I just explained, a wide range of people are trained in the prevention of and treatment for mental health problems, including professionals, people who provide psychological support, and correctional staff. We are also working with our provincial partners as much as possible on prevention and treatment for mental health issues. It is really difficult to answer your question the way it was presented.
Senator Cordy: I would understand that you wouldn’t have those statistics on hand. I fully understand that. However, I wonder if you could take it as an answer that you will get from the department or from Corrections Canada to tell us what the recruitment and retention rates are specifically for those hired to work in the field of mental health and mental illness in the federal institutions.
I understand fully that it would be unlikely that you would have that at your fingertips today, but if you could make an effort to get that information I would really appreciate it. Everything that I have read indicates that, in fact, it is a revolving door and people are not staying within the system, but if you have other information I would be delighted not only to read it but also to hear that in fact people are staying in the system for longer periods of time to work in that field.
Senator Carignan: Perhaps you could send me the documents you have regarding the revolving doors? That would allow me to address the issue you are referring to more specifically.
Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): For starters, I would refer the leader to successive records from the Correctional Investigator, Mr. Howard Sapers, who has documented year after year — but not I think in the detail that Senator Cordy was asking for — the inadequacy of the services available in the Correctional Service. He has not impugned the good will of the service; he has simply found that the end result is not what we would all wish. I mean “all” given that these people will mostly be out on the street again and it would be better if they could have treatment.
Most recently Mr. Sapers noted, as I observed last week, that 30 per cent, I think it was, of the relevant positions in the Correctional Service are either vacant or filled by under- qualified people. These are essentially the guards who have received, yes, some training in spotting mental illness but who are truly not qualified to treat any serious problems.
Given that Mr. Sapers has this information, that means it is available, and I join Senator Cordy in asking you to provide it for us, please.
Senator Carignan: Thank you, senator, for this clarification. As I explained, since 2006, we have improved access to mental health treatment and to training for correctional officers in prisons. Many people are trained based on the kind of intervention that is required for mental health issues.