John Howard Society of Canada - Our Mission: Effective, just and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime.

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The John Howard Society of Canada

809 Blackburn Mews
Kingston, ON K7P 2N6

Tel: 613.384.6272
Fax: 613.384.1847

Executive Director:
Catherine Latimer

Improving the Corrections System:
John Howard Society’s 5-Point Plan

3. Treat Rather than Punish the Mentally Ill

The increasing number of prisoners battling mental illness and suffering from brain injuries is a cause for concern for all sectors of the criminal justice and corrections system. Imprisonment, particularly solitary confinement, is known to worsen mental health sometimes leading to self-harm and suicide. Effective, justice, and humane approaches are needed that:

  1. Encourage effective non-criminal justice system responses for mentally ill/brain injured
  2. Evaluate/amend “not criminally responsible” and other Criminal Code provisions
  3. Improve treatment for mentally ill, brain-injured prisoners

(a) Objective/Standards

Prisoners are entitled to the same standard of health care as non-prisoners

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: S. 12 provides protections from cruel and unusual treatment or punishment

UN Convention against Torture: Article 11 provides protections for prisoners

(b) Evidence/Statistics/Reports

University of Glasgow study shows ‘significant association’ between head injury and crime Read More

Ashley Smith: Coroner’s Verdict and Recommendations, December 19, 2013: Read More

Office of the Correctional Investigator, “A Review of Correctional Services of Canada’s ‘Mental Health Strategy’”, 2010 Read More

Office of the Correctional Investigator, “Risky Business: An Investigation of the Treatment and Management of Chronic Self-Injury Among Federally Sentenced Women Final Report”, September 30, 2013 (HTML) (PDF, 353kb)

Office of the Correctional Investigator, A Three Year Review of Federal Inmate Suicides (2011-2014) Final Report, September 10, 2014 (HTML) (PDF, 2mb)

Supeme Court of Canada's October 2014 judgement in R. v. Conception 2014 SCC 60 at paragraph 77 noted that mentally disordered patients did not fare well as inmates and often experience violence, neglect, and segregation.

[77] Mentally disordered patients do not typically fare well as inmates. They are frequently victims of intimidation and violence and are more likely than the general prison population to attempt suicide, self-harm, or self-destructive behaviour. An experienced correctional officer testified in this case that the mental health care needs of mentally ill accused persons in provincial jail are frequently neglected due to lack of special units and trained personnel. Fewer than one-third of Ontario provincial jails have special units for inmates with mental illness or developmental disability. Where there is no special unit, or where the unit is full, mentally ill accused persons are typically held in segregation cells.

(c) Commentary

Renu Mandhane, Director, International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, posted “How Canadian Prisons Torture the Mentally Ill” on January 6, 2012 Read More

Scotland looks at links between brain injuries and criminal justice: Read More

Nearly half of Ontario prisoners suffered traumatic brain injury, July 17, 2014 article in The Star reporting on a study from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Read More

Mentally-ill man commits suicide in prison: tougher NCR provisions may lead to more not raising mental health and defaulting into prison: Commentary by Anita Szigeti, criminal defence lawyer and Chair of Criminal Lawyers Association Committee on Mental Health, in the Toronto on June 29, 2014 Read More

Seriously mentally ill federal prisoners in the Ontario Region kept in ‘grossly inadequate’ conditions: CBC coverage on Feb 27, 2014 Read More

Edward Snowshoes spent 162 days in segregation before committing suicide: CBC coverage on July 11, 2014: Read More

(d) Promising programs /approaches

The Mental Health Commission of Canada released its National At Home/Chez Soi Final Report on April 3, 2014: It showed that a housing first approach for those with mental health challenges reduced jail and prison costs, among other things

(e) Options for reforms

UN urges Canada to ban solitary confinement for the mentally ill: Read More

Ashley Smith Coroner’s Jury made many important recommendations, including transferring the seriously mentally ill to treatment facilities and limiting periods of segregation: Read More

The Correctional Investigator in his reports made many recommendations for changes including banning the use of segregation for those with serious mental illness, limiting segregation, and moving the most seriously ill and self-abusing prisoners to treatment facilities: “Risky Business: An Investigation of the Treatment and Management of Chronic Self-Injury Among Federally Sentenced Women Final Report”, September 30, 2013 (HTML) (PDF, 353kb); A Three Year Review of Federal Inmate Suicides (2011-2014) Final Report, September 10, 2014 (HTML) (PDF, 2mb)

(f) Recommendations

At it's Annual General Meeting on October 25, 2014, the John Howard Society unanimously passed New Brunswick's proposed resolution to restrict the use of solitary confinement:Read More