Senator Bob Runciman - Ontario - Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes

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OTTAWA, Dec. 14, 2012 – The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) should stop dragging its feet and look outside prison walls for treatment of some mentally ill offenders, Senator Bob Runciman said today.

Runciman has launched a Senate inquiry focusing on the need to improve mental health treatment for inmates, particularly female inmates, in federal prisons and the viability of using outside service providers. He spoke on the inquiry this morning in the Senate Chamber.

He cited the inhumane treatment and tragic death of Ashley Smith, who killed herself while in federal custody in 2007, as evidence of the need for action. Despite repeated recommendations by the Correctional Investigator that outside treatment be sought for some mentally ill offenders, CSC continues to resist, putting its own institutional interests ahead of the needs of the mentally ill and protection of the public, Runciman said.

“The system failed Ashley Smith and it continues to fail hundreds of mentally ill inmates every day in Canada. Ashley Smith’s case was a worst-case scenario, but it was not an isolated incident,” Runciman said.

The Senator noted that Corrections officials regularly use outside health-care providers to treat offenders with serious physical ailments, but continue to resist doing so for mental health problems. “No one would think of asking a correctional officer to perform heart surgery, but they are asked to routinely deal with inmates with acute and complex mental illnesses,” he said.

He cited the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre as a model for alternative service delivery. The 100-bed secure treatment unit is a partnership between the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. The facility is built to maximum-security standards, but operates like a hospital.

“The St. Lawrence centre works. No one has ever escaped from it. No one has ever committed suicide while housed there. And it has reduced recidivism rates by 40%,” Runciman said. The Royal Ottawa is proposing a similar treatment centre for female offenders, Runciman said, which could provide better treatment at a lower or equal cost than it is now costing CSC to care for serious mentally ill female offenders.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Barry Raison, Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Bob Runciman, (613) 943-4020 or at

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