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How Canada’s new prime minister can keep us all safe | Murray Fallis

Friday, September 17, 2021 @ 3:12 PM | By Murray Fallis

Murray Fallis %>
Murray Fallis
In the 2021 federal election, nearly every leader has promised to get serious about public safety. This raises the question — what  can Canada’s next prime minister do to keep us all safe?

Three policies could effectively and efficiently prevent future crime. These policies would save taxpayers money, diminish the number of future victims and improve the safety of our communities.

First, if a prisoner has a severe, diagnosed, mental health issue and they are being released, adequate mental health care must be provided. Recent Correctional Service Canada (CSC) data indicates that, among a group of federal prisoners with a “significant mental health impairment,” 20 per cent did not receive mental health treatment or services while incarcerated. Fourteen per cent of prisoners with "mental health needs at release" received absolutely no “mental health needs planning to assist in community reintegration.” Standard practice sees these federal prisoners released with a mere two weeks of prescription medication.

This is incredibly concerning.

Canada’s next prime minister must include federal prisoners as insured persons under the Canada Health Act, so that, prior to release, federal prisoners receive the essential health care which they desperately need.

Second, prisoners who are unmanageable in the general prison population are isolated in Structured Intervention Units. Twenty-six per cent of those in Structured Intervention Units reach their statutory release date six months hence, upon which, they are released. Many do not receive two hours outside of their cell each day. Many are isolated for 15 days straight or more. Last year, one prisoner was isolated for 464 days straight. Yes. Straight.

Courts, doctors and academics alike have repeatedly noted that prolonged isolation causes psychological ailments. To release 26 per cent of this population within six months of prolonged isolation, while not providing the adequate mental health supports noted above is a failure to protect both them and their communities.

To keep Canadians safe, our next prime minister must immediately issue a directive to stop prolonged, isolated solitary confinement which lasts for 15 days straight or more. They must stop creating new psychological challenges, in particular, among a population which is about to be released.

Finally, approximately 75 per cent of federal prisoners will one day be released. To avoid future crime, we must provide individuals being released with basic skills and access to housing. Basic literacy skills. Basic education. Basic digital access to charities, religion and pro-social activities. The academic literature is clear that poverty is directly correlated with recidivism rates. To keep us all safe, Canada’s next prime minister should guarantee prisoners to have controlled access to basic digital community-based programs, education, housing and skills training.

Since the writ has dropped, the word “prison” has not so much as crossed a federal leader’s lips. I understand why. Prisons are not a popular topic. Crime is dirty, it is ugly, and it is unlikable. However, if Canada’s next prime minister is serious about public safety, then these three policies must quickly move to the top of their agenda.

Murray Fallis is a lawyer with John Howard Canada.

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