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Why Canada's prisons can't cope with flood of mentally ill inmates Add to ...

If mentally impaired inmates do not get appropriate treatment, they're unlikely to qualify for early parole, winding up warehoused until their sentences are almost over. Thus, parole officers have little time to help them return to the community. "This leaves them at a higher risk of reoffending," Mr. Sapers says. "It is a great irony. The cycle is very counterproductive."

Correctional officials scramble to link the mentally ill with agencies that can provide beds and medical care after they are released, Mr. Small says. But many offenders have wandered far from home or been abandoned by their families, making it an enormous challenge.

To complicate matters more, ex-convicts with mental problems tend to be shunned even by well-meaning agencies. "Once you have been in jail, you have a stigma," Ms. Gauthier says. "Those beds are closed off, so we end up having to rely a lot on hostels and transition housing."



Uncertainty on the horizon

Looking ahead to the spike in the penal population, the correction service says it has no idea how many new inmates will require mental-health care. Ms. Leclerc says her department works hard to meet its legislative mandate "to provide every inmate with essential ... services" and "reasonable access" to services that aren't essential, but "will contribute to the inmate's rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community."

In the past five years, she adds, the $50-million has been spent largely on assessing new inmates and helping offenders after they are released. But Mr. Sapers says that money has done little to make treatment or more suitable accommodation available to most inmates.

He says it is urgent that the federal government work more closely with provincial correctional systems and psychiatric hospitals.

If not, Maplehurst's Ms. Gauthier adds, people like the headbanger will remain caught in a revolving door between jail and the street. "The primary concern is getting medication and the right treatment," she says. "There was a day when these offenders all would have been in psychiatric facilities. That day is gone. Now, we have incarceration."

And what has become of the young schizophrenic?

To prevent further damage, he was placed in a special restraining cot and had to wait in his own private hell until the hospital could be persuaded to medicate him. Returned in a much more placid state, he was able to complete his two-month sentence and then released.

For how long is anyone's guess.



Kirk Makin is The Globe and Mail's justice reporter.

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