Number of Canadian inmates harming themselves triples in five years

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

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 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,” Sapers said at a news conference.