Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Prison System Must Change Its Approach to Self-Harming Prisoners: Ombudsman

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Prison System Must Change Its Approach to Self-Harming Prisoners: Ombudsman

Article excerpt

Prison self-injury triples: ombudsman


OTTAWA - The number of self-injury incidents in federal penitentiaries has more than tripled since teenager Ashley Smith choked to death in a prison cell in 2007, a federal ombudsman says.

A report from the Correctional Investigator of Canada calls on the federal prison service to treat chronic self-injury first and foremost as a mental health concern, not a security or control issue.

There were 901 incidents of recorded prison self-injury involving 264 offenders in 2012-13, said investigator Howard Sapers.

Self-injury, including cutting, head-banging and self-strangulation, involves inordinate numbers of aboriginal women inmates, the study released Monday found. Aboriginal women accounted for nearly 45 per cent of all self-injury incidents involving female prisoners.

Since 2005, the Correctional Service of Canada has spent approximately $90 million in new funding to strengthen mental health services, implement computerized mental health screening at admission, train front-line staff and improve community partnerships, the report notes.

"Nevertheless, these initiatives have resulted in little substantive progress since the death of Ashley Smith in October 2007 with respect to the management and treatment of chronic self-injurious women in federal custody.

"A number of key policy, capacity, operational and infrastructure challenges remain."

Pepper spray, physical handling and restraints are commonly used in an attempt to interrupt or prevent prison self-injury, the study found.

However, these approaches often simply contain or reduce the immediate risk of harm, it says. They do not -- nor are they intended to -- deal with the underlying symptoms of mental illness apparent in many cases.

In addition, such offenders are frequently removed from the main prison population, even though isolating an inmate can accelerate the harmful behaviour, the study says.

"Self-injurious offenders are hesitant to disclose thoughts of self-harm for fear of punishment or placement in segregation."

The report concludes prisons are ill-equipped to safely manage the complex mental health needs of federally sentenced women who chronically self-injure. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.