The treatment of mentally-ill inmates in B.C. is the most regressive in the country, according to a Community Legal Assistance Society report

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By Shahleen Premji
Junior research associate
Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Do you hear voices? Do you have too much on your mind to get any sleep? Do you wonder if you’re still alive?

These are frightening thoughts. But they’re the thoughts people have when they’re in solitary confinement, a correctional method used for violent inmates. Solitary confinement is also being used for mentally-ill inmates.

To those who don’t struggle with mental illness, it’s common sense that subjecting mentally-ill people to this treatment is not a good idea. But it’s happening in B.C.

The treatment of mentally-ill inmates in B.C. is the most regressive in the country, according to the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS). The society’s recent report questions B.C.’s Mental Health Act. In fact, people are taking legal action, which will certainly draw attention to the flaws within the act, which needs to be revised.

Surprisingly, involuntary detention can occur if it’s believed a person will deteriorate, including if they’re deemed a threat to themselves or others under the act. The report also raises questions about how the decisions to detain inmates are made.

With detention numbers rising, the report calls for improved monitoring. In addition, it proposes better training for health-care providers, regular review hearings for detention cases, and re-establishing an independent mental health advocate.

As always, there are critics of the CLAS report who believe that the act doesn’t need to be touched. In particular, these critics refer to several cases where had the involuntary detention policy not been enacted, these individuals may have become threats to themselves or others, not improved in health or lost valuable time.

Critics also argue that not detaining some of these patients could result in injuries and unnecessary hospitalizations, costing taxpayers.

But no one seems to acknowledge that most cases can’t be generalized. There is no one-size-fits-all policy.

B.C.’s Mental Health Act needs to be re-evaluated, with a focus on reconciling human rights by providing necessary care and protection for everyone.

Shahleen Premji is a junior research associate at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


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