Mental Illness Rampant, Untreated in Jails Says Union

Published on January 26, 2012
Teresa Wright

The national correctional workers union voiced strong opposition to the federal Conservatives’ omnibus crime bill Thursday, raising concern about the growing number of Canadians with mental illnesses in jail.

James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), said the union believes Bill C-10 is backward and will not help reduce crime in Canada.

“The bill itself is fatally flawed and is simply bad public policy,” Clancy said.

“The evidence demonstrates it doesn’t result in a reduction of crime rates and it doesn’t make our communities any safer.”

Correctional workers and union representatives from across the country joined Clancy for a news conference Thursday in Charlottetown to raise concern about the bill and the impact it will have on jails in almost every province that are already overcrowded.

This was meant to coincide with the federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers meetings that wrapped up Thursday in Charlottetown, where Bill C-10 was a key topic of discussion.

Throwing more offenders in jail is not the solution, Clancy said. More resources need to be put instead into mental health services to help prevent people from committing crimes in the first place.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of inmates in jails that require mental health treatment that is simply not available to them,” Clancy said.

“There’s probably no more cruel and inhumane punishment than being incarcerated where one would require mental health treatment and not receive it.”

That’s why the NUPGE is calling on provinces and the federal government to increase funding and support for mental health services, both within the correctional system and for the general population, to deal with the growing number of Canadians with mental illness ending up jail.

Shelley Ward, president of the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees, said corrections officers in P.E.I. see first-hand the negative effects of jailing people who need mental health treatment.

“Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I think that people got better care for mental health at that point in time,” she said.

“Now what we’re having is people with mental illnesses re-offending with petty crimes and being put into a jail and caged up, people with psychosis, schizophrenia, the list goes on and on. You put them in a little box and of course they’re going to blow up.”

The union believes Bill C-10 will only worsen this situation in Canadian jails and will lead to further overcrowding in facilities that, in some provinces, are already at double capacity.

“People talk about Harper being tough on crime with Bill C-10. I think this bill demonstrates Harper is dumb on crime,” Cla

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