Toronto

Clinic full, people with mental problems jailed

People are sitting in jail in Toronto – not convicted of a crime – awaiting psychiatric assessment.

People are sitting in jail in Toronto – not convicted of a crime – awaiting psychiatric assessment.

In the past two months, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which does the assessments, has been turning people away because it's full.

That means they must wait in jail or be sent out of town to be assessed. At last count, 14 were in jail awaiting assessment, some for as long as two weeks.

Howard Barbaree, a psychologist at the centre, says there are 28 beds for assessment patients, not enough to meet a flood of referrals.

Nadia Liva is a criminal defence lawyer who represents people with mental illness. She says she has seen too many cases where people who may not be fit to stand trial and may have committed fairly minor offenses are languishing in jail.

"That just seems wrong and an infringement of their rights. … If they need an assessment in order to determine what is best for them and for them to understand what is wrong with them, why can't they get that immediately? It's a health issue, not a crime issue," she says.

Steve Lurie of the Canadian Mental Health Association agrees, and says the problem is worse Toronto.

At the centre, Barbaree says help is on the way. Last January, the province announced it will spent about $10 million to help people who have mental disorders and have come in contact with law, by providing housing and treatment.

That includes money for safe beds, which give police a chance to take a person somewhere for care without necessarily laying a charge, he says.

He says it will be about a year before the new services are fully available, too late for those already in jail.