Canada’s prison inspector has sharply criticized its correctional facilities, especially the practice of housing women in a men’s institution due to mental health issues, The Globe and Mail reported.
“It’s just unacceptable,” said Ivan Zinger, correctional investigator. “You do not put a woman in an all-male institution, completely isolated in segregation-like conditions.”
Zinger criticized the Canadian federal system for not having a stand-alone separate facility for women diagnosed with mental illness.
He said his investigation found that female prisoners with serious mental health issues are more likely to be placed in maximum security units—an environment he recognized as “far from therapeutic.” He also noted that almost half of Canada’s maximum security female population consists of indigenous women.
“I cannot help but think that the over-incarceration of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in corrections is among the most pressing social justice and human rights issues in Canada today,” Zinger stated in his report.
Indigenous people comprise 26.4 percent of Canada’s federal prisoners, while making up less than 5 percent of the nation’s population, he reported. For female inmates, 37.6 percent are Indigenous.
Zinger’s report focused on the conditions of confinement—ranging from poor food quality and unsatisfactory work opportunities, to unsafe transport vehicles—which “serve no underlying correctional or rehabilitative purpose.”
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Zinger requested in his report that terminally ill prisoners be permitted to seek medical assistance in dying, and that federal prisoners be offered a safe tattooing program, according to The Globe and Mail.
The treatment of Canada’s female inmates was Zinger’s primary concern, particularly those classified as maximum-security inmates. He cited specific cases of severely ill women who were transferred to a men’s psychiatric facility, where they were kept in separate isolation.
It is a situation that goes completely against international human rights standards, Zinger said.
Zinger petitioned the state to place inmates with extreme and complex mental health diagnoses at external psychiatric hospitals that can provide a higher level of care.
Correctional Service of Canada issued a statement saying it “fully supports the recommendation to provide hospital-level care for mentally ill women at local external community psychiatric hospitals.”
According to The Globe and Mail, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a statement promising that the federal government will budget funds to improve its prisons’ mental health care and address the overrepresentation problem of the indigenous community within the criminal justice system,
“I am committed to ensuring that Canada’s correctional system is fair, humane, and effective,” Goodale said.