Sudbury

Sudbury groups push for mental health awareness on Prisoners' Justice Day

A group of Sudbury organizations commemorated Prisoners' Justice Day Friday morning, an occasion to remember the men and women who have died in prison from violent or unnatural causes.

'If you don't have mental health issues when you go in, you probably will when you come out'

John Rimore is executive director of the John Howard Society of Sudbury. (Martha Dillman/CBC)

A group of Sudbury organizations commemorated Prisoners' Justice Day Friday morning, an occasion to remember the men and women who have died in prison from violent or unnatural causes.

John Rimore, executive director of the John Howard Society of Sudbury, said Prisoners' Justice Day also provides an opportunity to focus on other issues such as mental health.

The reason, he said, is that penitentiaries and prisons are turning into psychiatric facilities. 

"Many people with mental health issues do commit crimes," Rimore said. "They are sentenced to periods of incarceration because there's nowhere else for them to go."

"For many of us who've been working within this area for a number of years, what we generally say is if you don't have mental health issues when you go in, you probably will have when you come out because of the starkness of the situation."

Prisoners' Justice Day started almost 45 years ago in memory of a Millhaven Penitentiary inmate who died a violent death.

"A prisoner who was going to be released in a short while had finally come to the end of his strings and tried to die by suicide," Rimore said. "The unfortunate part was that he tried to change his mind at the end and pushed the panic button in his solitary confinement cell, but the panic button had not been hooked up in federal penitentiary."

"One year later the very same thing happened in the very same solitary confinement cell."

Rimore said that the prison system, especially solitary confinement, makes prisoners stop thinking in a "normal, realistic way."

This then translates into how prisoners behave on their release.

"We have to make sure that they live without violence and fear of death and fear of assaults on a constant basis," Rimore said. "Because when they are released, that is what they are going to be bringing back with them into the community."

Rimore adds that he wants to make it clear that he still sympathizes with the victims of crime.

"We are not saying there should not be incarceration," he said. "What we are saying is that when a person is incarcerated it should be humane and safe because these people come back into our communities."

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