Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario
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Jailing The Mentally Ill

Jumping incident highlights challenges for which detention centre is ill-equipped: experts

Neco Cockburn, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, February 25, 2008

The treatment of Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre inmates suffering from mental health problems is under increased scrutiny after a man jumped from a second-floor railing at the jail.

The union representing correctional officers at the detention centre says guards and mentally ill inmates are put at risk, and that its fears were highlighted when the 50-year-old man jumped.

The man had been showering on the first floor on Aug. 16, 2007, when he walked up a set of stairs toward his cell, sat on the railing, then jumped to the concrete below, said Dave Lundy, an official with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

The man was taken to hospital and later turned over to Immigration officials, said Stuart McGetrick, a spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. He said the incident was an "internal operational matter" and would not discuss its circumstances.

Generally, he said, inmates seen to be at risk of harming themselves or others are "going to receive adequate supervision and appropriate accommodation."

But Mr. Lundy said the detention centre's correctional officers don't get enough training in dealing with an increasing number of inmates who suffer from mental illnesses.

Guards at the scene of the August incident tried to coax the man down, but were hindered by another inmate who urged him to jump, Mr. Lundy said. They did not know the man's mental health background and would have had closer access to him if the shower facility had been caged. The showers are open except for a short partition.

About a month before the man jumped, a union official asked to have the showers enclosed by a caged grill to enhance security -- a request that was denied in October, Mr. Lundy said. He said the concern was raised "because the union feared that an inmate would dash out of the shower and get up to some mischief" that could harm himself or the guards. "Our concerns proved us horribly correct."

Mr. McGetrick said he would not discuss physical arrangements within the institution, citing security concerns, but said correctional officers can take professional development courses about mentally ill offenders and suicide awareness.

Jails and prisons have long struggled with the growing issue of what to do with inmates who have mental illnesses.

According to a report issued by the Office of the Correctional Investigator, an ombudsman for federal offenders, the number of offenders in penitentiaries with "significant, identified mental health needs" nearly doubled between 1997 and 2007, with the number of people who self-identified as having current diagnoses rising from seven per cent to 12 per cent for men and from 13 per cent to 21 per cent for women.

The report stated that mental health services offered by the correctional service have not kept up with the demand and, in some cases, have decreased. It also noted that in recent years, the service has tended to invest in security measures, "often without the same increased attention paid to rehabilitative initiatives." It said the challenge is to realize that creating a more controlled environment without providing sufficient support and services may decrease the stability of institutions.

Reproduced from http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/city/story.html?id=b204b6eb-09b8-4db5-b9cc-1726397ba983&k=11273.

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