Ashley Smith

Progress has been limited on recommendations following the Ashley Smith case — from the correctional investigator of Canada and a subsequent coroner’s inquest into her death — says NDP MP Randall Garrison. (Courtesy of the Smith family)

The NDP is pushing for a parliamentary study of the federal prison system's capacity to deal with mental illness behind bars.

Public safety critic Randall Garrison said the growing crisis for the Correctional Service of Canada has serious implications for public safety — and the recent announcement of a two-bed pilot project for acute mental illness will not adequately address the problem.

“I don’t see any sense of urgency. For the government to say they’ve taken action — I think the facts belie that,” he said. “How could we have 58 more suicides in custody? That’s a very large number. We did some preliminary calculations and that’s about five times the rate outside prison — and these are people who are supposedly under surveillance. So we’re clearly failing at suicide prevention in mental health.”

Progress to act on a series of recommendations following the Ashley Smith case — from the correctional investigator of Canada and a subsequent coroner’s inquest into the death — has been limited, he said.

“People with mental illness who ended up in prison will go back into the public and the same things that caused them to come into contact with the criminal justice system will happen again, and many of them will be in worse shape as a result of incarceration and our poor ways of dealing with them,” he said. ”So it threatens public safety.”

CBC News Network’s Power and Politics reported that male prisoners with severe mental illness were being held in inadequate conditions at a former segregation unit at Millhaven Institution after the closure of the Regional Treatment Centre in Kingston, Ont..