RNAO applauds recommendations to limit segregation and improve the health of inmates in Ontario jails

TORONTO, May 4, 2017 /CNW/ - A sweeping review of the province's use of segregation in provincial jails is being welcomed by Ontario's registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students. Also praised is the Ontario government's commitment to explore transferring responsibility for the health care of inmates from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Howard Sapers, the man tapped by the government to conduct an independent review of the corrections system, released his report Thursday. The report highlights the need for best practices for incarcerated people and a transformation of the correctional system to one that delivers better health for inmates – priorities for which the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) has long been advocating.

Sapers spent more than a decade serving as Canada's correctional investigator and ombudsman for federal offenders before the Ontario government admitted its own review of the provincial corrections system didn't go far enough and hired him to conduct an independent assessment. 

Among the recommendations in the report:

  • Establish a new legal and policy framework, including modernizing the Ministry of Correctional Services Act in the current legislative session
  • Enhance respect for human rights within corrections
  • Update the ministry's definition of segregation so it meets international standards
  • Prohibit the segregation of vulnerable populations, including people with mental illness, those at risk of self-harm or suicide, pregnant women, and those who have recently given birth
  • Increase procedural safeguards, transparency and oversight

"We commend Mr. Sapers for his thoughtful and comprehensive report, including his recommendations on segregation. The evidence is clear and unequivocal: segregation can have profound impacts on people, especially those suffering mental health issues. And it can lead to increased risk of self-harm and suicide for those confined for long periods," says RNAO President Carol Timmings, noting that on a typical day last year, 575 of Ontario's almost 8,000 inmates were in segregation. "If we get segregation right, then the rest will start to fall into place."

RNAO says the more than 500 nurses who work in corrections – most of whom are RNs – know first-hand the challenges of working in the system. Timmings says they may represent the largest group of health professionals in corrections, but they work in an area where health isn't necessarily a priority, despite their best efforts. For example, compared to the general population, inmates are more likely to suffer mental illness, substances use disorders, infectious diseases and chronic conditions.

Shirley Kennedy, who has spent 28 years working as a correctional nurse and is president of RNAO's Ontario Correctional Nurses' Interest Group (OCNIG), says she is "pleased with the report's recommendations on segregation." Kennedy also strongly supports Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde's announcement Thursday that she is committed to exploring with Minister Eric Hoskins the transfer of responsibility for inmate health care from her ministry to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This move, as Sapers highlights in his report, has already been embraced by B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia.

"One of the more stunning findings in Sapers' report is that 70 per cent of incarcerated people have mental health issues. RNAO calls on the government to build on the momentum of the report, and to make improvements to community mental health and addiction services so individuals with mental illness that break the law have, where possible, access to alternative models that divert them from the criminal justice system to innovative community programs so they can get the help they need," says RNAO's Chief Executive Officer Doris Grinspun, adding that such support is more cost-effective and benefits society as a whole.

Grinspun says both a respect for human rights and a public health approach have been severely lacking in the government's overall approach to incarcerated people. "Inmates are citizens of this province who need health services just like you and I and denying them adequate health services is a public health concern. We urge the government to immediately adopt all 63 recommendations in the Sapers report so that marginalized and mentally ill people in our corrections system can be reintegrated into their communities healthier and be able to live with dignity." 

RNAO is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses' contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit our website at RNAO.ca or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

SOURCE Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

For further information: Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO, Cell: 647-406-5605 / Phone: 416-408-5605, mzych@RNAO.ca

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