Nova Scotia

Correctional Service of Canada to hire mental health experts

A team of mental health experts will soon be selected to review and offer customized recommendations for the treatment of Canadian prison inmates suffering from mental illness.

Incidents of self-harming inmates have spiked since 2011

Camille Strickland-Murphy took her own life in July while serving time at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S. (CBC)

A team of mental health experts will soon be selected to review and offer customized recommendations for the treatment of Canadian prison inmates suffering from mental illness.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) issued a notice of proposed procurement this week describing the program. Up to five psychologists or psychiatrists will form a roster of experts. 

Those experts will provide recommendations to the CSC for the treatment of offenders with "complex mental health needs," states the government's document. 

It specifies the experts should have experience in some of the following areas:

  • personality disorders
  • non-suicidal self injury
  • concurrent disorders
  • neurobehavioural conditions
  • culturally based mental health treatment
  • assessment and treatment of trauma

While the program will improve access to resources for inmates suffering from mental health issues, the recommendations made by the panel of experts will not be binding for the CSC. 

The proposed program follows numerous and increasingly-frequent incidents of self-harm by prison inmates.

A CBC investigation this year found reported incidents of self-harm at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro increased from zero in 2011, to 56 in 2012, to 109 in 2013.

A CBC investigation this year found reported incidents of self-harm at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro are increasing. (Correctional Service of Canada)

In July, Camille Strickland-Murphy, a 22-year-old from St. John's, N.L., took her own life while serving time at the Nova Institution for Women. She had been found guilty of armed robbery in 2014.

Corrections officials had noted during her sentencing that she had a history of mental illness and substance abuse.

In 2007, Ashley Smith, a 19-year-old originally from Moncton, N.B., died in a segregated prison cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. after tying a piece of cloth around her neck. 

Following an inquest into Smith's death, the Ontario Coroner's Office made 107 recommendations for how the CSC could improve its treatment of inmates with mental health issues. 

Many of the recommendations call for more mental assessments and increased support of inmates to determine the best treatment for each individual.

This week's request by the CSC for a panel of mental health experts will help adhere with some of those recommendations. The roster will be at the CSC's disposal to provide expert advise from until March 2017; the contract could then be extended to 2019. 

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