SCHIZOPHRENIA: Mentally ill jamming Canadian jails, 'Internally, externally decaying' system

Schizophrenia Update, December 2002

Windsor Star
October 9, 2002 Wednesday Final Edition

By: Veronique Mandal Star Health-Science Reporter

Canada's prisons are turning into the mental institutions of the new millennium.

Psychiatric inmate populations have grown by more than 10 per cent a year since the early 1990s and by 2020, experts predict, 75 per cent of inmates will have a mental illness.

The trend prompted Dr. Richard Schneider, a forensic psychologist, criminal defence counsel now an Ontario judge and two colleagues to brand Canada's criminal code the "Mental Health Act of last resort" while presenting the prestigious Cambridge Lectures in Cambridge, England in 1999. They questioned why populations of the mentally disordered continued to grow while Canada's general arrest rates were falling.

Today, Schneider blames the tough-on-crime attitude of the 1990s, the reform of the insanity defence and a prison system content to "warehouse" rather than reform its inmates.

"The model championed by civil libertarians is based upon dangerousness," Schneider said. "We may only interfere with an individual's freedom if he is perceived to be a danger to himself or others. If an individual is not seen as dangerous he is free to roam the streets madder than a hatter.

"The problem with this dangerousness-based legislation, some say, is that we are not able to determine with any degree of accuracy who should be contained and who should not. We make all sorts of mistakes. False positives and false negatives."

Prison cells have become the catch-all for people unable to find beds in an ever-shrinking supply of mental institutions. The number of beds in Ontario's psychiatric hospitals dropped to 2,800 in 1997 from more than 5,000 in 1976. A further 2,000 could be lost by 2005 when six of the province's 10 long-term psychiatric hospitals are due to close.

Dr. Marnie Rice, of the Ontario Review Board, said that in 1992 about four per cent of psychiatric beds were occupied by forensic patients. In 1997 that had increased to 18 per cent.

"If no more (of the present) psychiatric beds are lost in the province all provincial psychiatric hospital beds will be occupied by forensic patients by 2004," said Schneider.

Dr. Hyman Bloom, a lawyer and forensic psychiatrist, says Canada's care of the mentally ill is "broken and sorely in need of repair," and the growing number of mentally disordered offenders is "regressive ... and constructed on the failures of an internally and externally decaying system."

More suicides than murders:

Schizophrenics are far more likely to take their own lives than someone else's. Fourty per cent of schizophrenics attempt suicide and up to 25 per cent succeed, according to the Schizophrenia Society of Canada.

A Correctional Service of Canada study, released in 1992, revealed that 10.4 per cent of the federal male inmate population suffers some form of schizophrenia (compared to one per cent in the general population), another 29.8 per cent is depressive and 55.6 per cent have anxiety disorders.

The lifetime prevalence of psychotic disorders was found to be highest among inmates in security units (29.3 per cent). In treatment centres, the rate was 25.3 per cent.




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