From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Friday, March 4, 2011

Canada's Shame: The Criminalization Of Mental Illness

 According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, the number of mentally ill offenders in the federal prison system has more than doubled in the last 10 years. So how do you think the newly branded "Harper Government" has responded to this travesty, why they cut spending on mental health and increased spending on prisons ,of course.

The situation at the provincial level is no better,and perhaps worse. At least at the federal level there are programs for the mentally ill, as sparse as those may be and the conditions in the grossly overcrowded provincial remand centres test the sanity of even the most  stable of minds.

People with mental illness, are often low-income, homeless or struggling with substance abuse . If they commit a crime, even low-level non-violent offences, punitive sentencing laws often result in  their imprisonment,

"Prisons can be dangerous and destructive places for people who are mentally ill," said Len Wall of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada. "They are victimized and exploited. Prison rules punish mentally ill offenders for symptoms of their illness - such as being noisy or refusing orders, or even self-injury and attempted suicide. Prisoners who are mentally ill are more likely than others to end up housed in especially harsh conditions, such as isolation which, in turn, can place them at risk for acute psychosis or suicide."

All this begs the question, Why are we imprisoning the mentally ill in the first place? Would it not be preferential, more just and humane, as well as more cost effective and beneficial to society and the mentally ill to treat their disease instead of criminalizing it. After all we would think it bizarre to throw cancer sufferers in jail  simply because they are ill, so why is it deemed acceptable
to do it to those who through no fault of their own have developed a mental disease.

<Link Updated> 

A presentation by Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada.


  1. hi Kev...Excellent post. The way mentally ill people are warehoused in our prisons, or the way they are abandoned on the street is absolutely shameful. If we had a proper and comprehensive approach to health care, we could treat the mentally ill with compassion and dignity, reduce the number of people in prisons, and save a lot of money.
    BTW...thanks for introducing me to Operation Maple. I LOVE them !!
    I'm afraid all I can offer in return is this site:

    It's not as entertaining as Operation Maple. But gloriously Maple it is... :)

  2. Hi Simon, Thanks, I grew up in Parkdale during the late 60's, early 70's and vividly remember when the Davis government "de-institutionalized" the mentally ill. The neighborhood was flooded with ready made victims and victimized they were.

    Many individuals stick out in my mind still today.I remember this one woman who would unleash the most horrific screams at the sight of my younger brother and his friend who closely resembled each other. They would reverse course, hide behind parked cars, anything to avoid setting her off again.

    Oh re: Operation Maple, I just discovered them this week and I too LOVE them