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Senate inquiry on mental health and the correctional services system

January 10, 2013

On December 14, 2012, Senator Bob Runciman, the representative for Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes in Ontario, launched an inquiry focusing on the need to improve mental health treatment for offenders, particularly female offenders, in federal correctional facilities, and the viability of using outside mental health service providers.

According to Senator Runciman’s press release, he cited the tragic death of Ashley Smith, who died while in federal correctional custody in 2007, as evidence of the need for action. Runciman stated that despite repeated recommendations by the Correctional Investigator of Canada that outside treatment be sought for offenders with mental health conditions, Correctional Services of Canada (CSC) continues to resist. “The system failed Ashley Smith and it continues to fail hundreds,” Senator Runciman said. “Ashley Smith’s case was a worst-case scenario, but it was not an isolated incident.”

Furthermore, Senator Runciman noted that CSC officials regularly use outside health care providers to treat offenders with serious physical ailments, but continue to resist doing so for offenders with mental health conditions. “No one would think of asking a correctional officer to perform heart surgery, but they are asked to routinely deal with inmates with acute and complex mental illnesses,” he said.

Senator Runciman also cited the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre as a model for alternative service delivery for offenders with mental health conditions. The 100-bed secure treatment unit is a partnership between the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. The facility is built to maximum-security standards, but operates like a hospital.

See the full press release available at

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