Psychiatrists Welcome the Correctional Investigator's Call for the Prevention of Suicide Among Federal Inmates

TORONTO, Sept. 10, 2014 /CNW/ - The Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) welcomes the Correctional Investigator's report on suicide among federal inmates and applauds its focus on prevention, a key component of which is timelier access to mental health services for inmates. It is fitting that the report be released today, on World Suicide Prevention Day.

The report,  A Three Year Review of Federal Inmate Suicides (2011-2014), found that while the rate of prison suicide has been on the decline, it remains seven times higher than in the general population and progress seems stalled.  In reviewing 30 suicides that had occurred in custody, the Correctional Investigator found most inmates who had died by suicide had previously attempted suicide, had a documented mental health issues and/or concurrent substance abuse disorder.  A high proportion of the suicides, 14 out of 30, occurred in segregation cells.

"That virtually half the suicides investigated occurred while in a segregation cell is disturbing.  As the Correctional Investigator notes, this points to a continued reliance on segregation as a means to manage mentally ill, suicidal and self-harming individuals.  Prison is a challenging environment in which to treat mental illness, but we can do better than segregation," said Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, forensic psychiatrist and author of the CPA's 2011 position statement, The Treatment of Mental Illness in Correctional Settings.

This CPA statement made a number of recommendations to improve the treatment of inmates with mental illness, many of which are in line with the Correctional Investigator's 11 recommendations.   The CPA recommended that:

  • All inmates be screened on admission for mental health concerns and, in the event that mental health issues are noted, a treatment plan be instituted.
  • Segregation of psychiatric patients at risk of self-harm be reviewed closely and at regular intervals, with the involvement of psychiatric services.
  • Provincial and federal correctional services enhance the training of correctional officers and correctional mental health staff to manage psychiatric illness in correctional settings.
  • Provincial and federal correctional services be encouraged to consider developing psychiatric treatment units within their systems to allow for the active treatment of mental illness during sentences.
  • A joint task force, involving the CPA, CAPL, and provincial and federal correctional services, be formed to develop a mental health strategy for psychiatric patients in jails and prisons
  • A special mobile team within Corrections Service Canada be created to deal with complex treatment-refractory inmates who engage in repeated self-injurious behaviours.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the national voice for Canada's 4,700 psychiatrists and more than 600 psychiatric residents. Founded in 1951, the CPA is dedicated to promoting an environment that fosters excellence in the provision of clinical care, education and research.

SOURCE: Canadian Psychiatric Association

For further information: Hélène Côté, Canadian Psychiatric Association, hcote@cpa-apc.org, 613-297-5038

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