The federal correctional system should seek outside help to treat female inmates suffering from mental illness, Senator Bob Runciman said in a speech on Saturday to the annual regimental dinner at RCMP national headquarters.
Ottawa - Oct. 23, 2011 - The federal correctional system should seek outside help to treat female inmates suffering from mental illness, Senator Bob Runciman said in a speech on Saturday to the annual regimental dinner at RCMP national headquarters.
Runciman, Ontario's former Solicitor General and Correctional Services Minister, said effective treatment is an integral part of enhancing public safety, since a high proportion of offenders suffer from mental illness.
He referred to the death of Ashley Smith, a woman with a long history of mental illness who killed herself in 2007 while serving time in the federal Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener. The inquest into her death is set to resume in the coming weeks.
Runciman said the case is not unique.
“Our prisons are full of mentally ill people and the system is not equipped to handle them. They are a danger to themselves, to other inmates, to prison staff, and when they’re released, they are a grave danger to the public,” he said.
Runciman is an advocate for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group’s proposal to establish a secure treatment unit for female offenders, patterned after the 100-bed St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre in Brockville. That institution, operated by the Royal Ottawa, was established by Runciman when he was Correctional Services Minister in Ontario. It provides treatment in a hospital environment, with prison-level security. Provincial inmates treated there have shown a significant drop in recidivism.
“We’ve heard a lot about the government’s plans to expand prisons. I support that expenditure. But I believe we can actually spend less and get better results by sending mentally ill inmates for treatment outside the regular prison system, to facilities like the Royal Ottawa that have demonstrated results,” Runciman said. “That’s not being soft on crime, that’s being smart on crime.”
Runciman also spoke about the Harper government’s strong commitment to public safety and criminal law reform.