Coroner condemns dumping of mental patients into prison system



    MONTREAL, June 2 /CNW Telbec/ - The Union of Canadian Correctional
Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) welcomes the report of a Montreal coroner that
describes the crisis in Canada's correctional services - as much provincial as
federal - over the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients.
    The report by Dr. Paul Dionne covers the November 28, 2007, death of a
troubled young man sent to the healthcare unit of the Rivières des Prairies
detention centre after his arrest on November 23. Despite an "urgent"
recommendation by a consulting psychiatrist, on November 27, that Justin Scott
St-Aubin be immediately transferred to a psychiatric hospital, he was kept in
detention because no space was available at Montreal's Philippe-Pinel
Institute. The next day, the 25-year-old died of a heart attack during an
altercation with correctional officers.
    What distinguishes this report is the coroner's refusal to place blame
for this death solely with the correctional officers present at the moment of
the inmate's death. Dr. Dionne found breakdowns at several levels: the failure
to determine if Mr. St-Aubin was under the influence of drugs during a first
intervention by police November 20; the fact he was not sent to hospital after
his arrest November 23 despite evident psychiatric problems; the fact his
lawyers did not ask the judge to order a medical evaluation; the
recommendation, by telephone, to administer a chemical restraint during the
inmate's violent agitation on November 28; and, at the same time, the
application of a physical restraint.
    Dr. Dionne also touched the deaths of several other psychiatric patients
in federal and provincial incarceration over the past several years. During
his media statements this week, the coroner harshly criticized Quebec's
ministries of health and public security for the regular transfer of
psychiatric patients to correctional facilities.
    "They are not qualified to hold psychiatric patients," Dr. Dionne told
Radio-Canada in reference to correctional personnel. "They don't have the
training. They don't have the support. They don't have all the necessary
organization."
    UCCO-SACC-CSN National President Pierre Mallette notes that this
situation is not unique to Quebec. According to Mr. Mallette recent, highly
publicized deaths in federal institutions in Ontario have resulted in
frontline correctional officers being held publicly responsible - in one case
serious criminal charges are pending - even if their involvement came at the
end of a long series of decisions out of their control.
    "We are making it impossible for correctional officers to do their job,"
said Mr. Mallette. "Mental health has become a major problem in our
institutions across Canada, while correctional officers are not equipped to
deal with it."
    For UCCO-SACC-CSN, it is vital that provincial and federal governments
assume their responsibility and coordinate efforts to redirect mental health
cases toward appropriate medical resources.
    "Our governments have a choice to make: either they reinvest in our
mental health networks, or they provide complete training to correctional
officers and build true psychiatric hospitals in our correctional
institutions," said Mr. Mallette.




For further information:

For further information: Lyle Stewart, CSN Communications Service, (514)
796-2066.


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