How Inmates in Canadian Prisons Suffer.

AuthorCooper, John

* Mental health crises for which there are few resources

* COVID-19 lockdowns

* Overuse of solitary confinement

* A racialized justice system that criminalizes Indigenous Peoples and Black Canadians

* A lack of preparation for re-entry into society

These are the tip-of-the-iceberg issues faced by inmates in Canada's federal and provincial prisons. And according to advocates for better inmate treatment, much more needs to be done.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2017/2018, Canadian prisons held just under 39,000 adults:

* a little under 25,000 in provincial or territorial custody (83 per 100,000 population)

* 14,000 in federal custody (48 per 100,000)

* for a national total of 131 adults per 100,000 citizens.

Investigations by the prisoner advocacy group John Howard Society of Canada (JHS) show total spending on criminal justice in Canada (at all levels of government) is about $20 billion annually. Provinces and municipalities spend 70% of that total. Prisons and jails get $5 billion (55% provincial and 45% federal) with the balance going to police services and the court system.

With that context in mind, let's look at four major issues of inmate treatment in Canadian jails.

  1. Health issues

    Health issues continue to devastate inmates' rights. Inmates are far more likely than the general population to suffer from HIV and AIDS, are more prone to psychiatric issues, and are more than 100 times as likely to suffer from Hepatitis C. Once released, inmates are 58 times more likely than the general population to have psychiatric episodes that land them in a health care facility. As well, inmates may be overmedicated. According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, 46% of women in prisons are being treated with psychotropic drugs (used for conditions such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia).

    Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, says inmates receive far less health care than the general community does "and we see them (inmates) as aging 10 years faster in the prison community than in the regular community."

    In an email interview, Sandra Ka Hon Chu, a lawyer and the director of research and advocacy at Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, says:

    Health care for prisoners living with HIV (and hepatitis C or HCV, another virus transmissible by injection drug use) is a significant public health concern, especially in light of rates of HIV and HCV in prison that are considerably higher than they are in the community as a whole. A 2016 study indicated that about 30% of prisoners in federal facilities, and 15% of men and 30% of women in provincial facilities. are living with HCV, and 1-2% of men and 1-9% of women are living with HIV. Indigenous prisoners, in particular, have much higher rates of HIV and HCV than non-Indigenous prisoners; e.g. Indigenous women in federal prisons are reported to have rates of HIV and HCV of 11.7% and 49.1%, respectively. Not surprisingly, research shows that the incarceration of people who inject drugs is a factor driving Canada's HIV and HCV epidemics. Despite this, neither federal prisons nor provincial/territorial prisons provide prisoners with equivalent access to health care services, including key harm reduction measures. While inmates have access to HIV testing in federal prisons, "ongoing testing is another issue, which makes it more difficult to track HIV or HCV," says Ka Hon Chu. "Stigma and...

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