Prison ombud urges mental health focus

Canada's corrections system needs to step up recruitment efforts for mental health professionals, says a report released by Canada's prison ombudsman Friday.

Canada's corrections system needs to step up its recruitment of mental health professionals, says a new report released Friday by Canada's prison ombudsman.

Corrections Canada is facing a 20 per cent vacancy rate in psychology-related jobs, the report said, although one in four new federal inmates has some form of mental illness.

"The prevalence rate of mental illness in the offender population far exceeds that of general society," said the annual report, which was also tabled in the House of Commons.

Investigators looked looking into the prison system made 24 recommendations.

Of particular concern, they said, was a push away from the rehabilitative aspect of the correctional system in favour of a punitive approach.

Use of force  — including pepper spray, emergency response teams and the prominent display of firearms — is increasing, the report said.

"It is in our collective interest to create and maintain a system that responds to offenders needs and doesn't just isolate them," correctional investigator Howard Sapers wrote in his introduction.

'We all have an interest in making sure our correction system treats prisoners fairly.'— Howard Sapers, correctional investigator

At a news conference on the report, Sapers said the climate inside Canadian prisons has become "increasingly harsh, tense and stressed" and has damaged the rehabilitative process.

"We all have an interest in making sure our correction system treats prisoners fairly," he said.

Deteriorating prison infrastructure and overcrowding were also mentioned in the report. Investigators found an increase in the number of prisoners has led to a 50 per cent increase in double-bunking, the practice of placing two prisoners into a cell designed for one.

Asked why overcrowding and double-bunking were an issue when crime has gone down in Canada, Sapers noted that new mandatory minimum sentencing laws meant more people were entering federal prisons and staying longer.