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The Correctional Investigator of Canada, Howard Sapers holds a news conference focusing on the increasing number of self-injury incidents in federal prisons as documented in the 2011-12 Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, October 23, 2012.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal correctional investigator says the number of prisoners harming themselves in federal penitentiaries has almost tripled in the last five years.

The annual report from Howard Sapers says aboriginal offenders and women are most likely to abuse themselves by cutting, self strangulation, head-banging, burning and ingesting harmful objects or substances.

And Mr. Sapers says Corrections Canada continues to treat such incidents as security problems and not as mental-health issues.

Mr. Sapers says there's far too much emphasis in the corrections system on warehousing prisoners in secure surroundings and not nearly enough on preparing convicts for their eventual release back into society.

Prisons have become harsher places, says Mr. Sapers, crowded with longer-term, older offenders and a system that he says is "criminalizing mental health issues" — all contributing factors in the sharply rising numbers of self-harming prisoners.

He's recommending a complete ban on placing suicidal or self-harming prisoners in long-term segregation and wants to see prisoners with mental-health problems moved to secure hospital settings where they can be properly treated.

"There are safe places to put these people where they will receive the treatment that they need as opposed to just holding them in a cage and occasionally pepper-spraying them or putting them in restraints," Mr. Sapers said at a news conference.