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Prescription for public safety nightmare | Murray Fallis

Tuesday, August 31, 2021 @ 12:04 PM | By Murray Fallis

Murray Fallis %>
Murray Fallis
Picture it. You’re a federal prisoner. After five years of incarceration in a maximum security institution you‘ve reached your Warrant Expiry Date, the day on which you are released. With a criminal record and a severe diagnosed mental health ailment you are handed two weeks of prescription medication and put on your way.

Surely this is not the reality in Canada? Surely, in an informed, evidence-based, society we have a better long-term plan?

Under the Canada Health Act, federal prisoners are excluded from the definition of insured person. Therefore, federal prisoners are excluded from provincial health insurance schemes. As a result, while incarcerated, federal prisoners cannot receive a health card. To receive a health card, a prisoner must first be released. This creates a system whereby a federal prisoner cannot seek immediate insured medical coverage upon release, as, upon release, they have no health card.

Usually, a federal prisoner is released with two weeks of prescription medication. Whether an individual is depressed, schizophrenic or bipolar, they receive a mere 14 days of prescription psychiatric medication. Following this, they must find more medication or diverge from their doctor’s orders. Far too many prisoners face the difficult and stressful challenges of re-entering society while coping with an untreated severe mental illness.

Reading Correctional Service Canada’s (CSC) Report on the Continuum of Mental Health Care is like reading a Ripley’s Believe it or Not book. One is left downright baffled.

Among a group of prisoners with a “significant mental health impairment” 20 per cent did not receive mental health treatment or services while incarcerated.

Fourteen per cent of those with “mental health needs at release” received absolutely no “mental health needs planning to assist in community reintegration.”

A mere 69 per cent received “the full continuum of care.”

Only 31 per cent had formal clinical discharge plans.

How is this possible?

Four individuals were even released without their 14 days of prescription medication.

From a safety perspective these failings are downright shocking.

The linkages between diagnosed severe mental health ailments and recidivism are evident. Ample mental health supports reduce long-term incarceration costs and promote safer societies. A lack of these supports does the opposite. Releasing prisoners with known severe mental health ailments devoid of adequate support is purely and simply a terrible idea. It is more aptly the script for a horror movie than a sound correctional practice designed to reduce recidivism.

On an emotional level, one also feels for these individuals on a very human level. After committing a federal crime, many are re-entering society with the hope of reforming their lives. With the hope of trudging a new path. With the hope of overcoming past obstacles. What chance do these individuals have where, despite medical diagnoses, without a health card, they are given only two weeks of prescription medication and grossly inadequate planning?

In a society where we encourage those who need support with mental health to speak up and seek help, this procedure is a shame.

As our own prime minister remarked on the first day of 2021’s Mental Health Week:

Access to reliable, quality mental health care has never been more important, yet, too many Canadians are still unable to get the help they need when they need it most. That is why the government of Canada continues to take action to strengthen access to mental health services in our country.

If only the CSC would follow his lead.

Murray Fallis is a lawyer with John Howard Canada.

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