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Mentally Ill Held in Canadian Prison's 'Unsuitable' Former Segregation Unit

Despite recommendations from the United Nations, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and from within its own federal corrections system, Ontario, Canada's Millhaven Institution continues to lock up prisoners with acute mental illnesses inside cells that are part of a former segregation unit and have been called "grossly inadequate."

Canada's CBC News obtained documents in February 2014 that reveal concerns from Canada's Office of the Correctional Investigator that mentally ill prisoners at Millhaven are being isolated and deprived of programming, while prison staff there has shown "gross neglect" toward maintenance issues and prisoners' hygiene needs.

Yet, prisoners suffering from schizophrenia, major depression and other disorders continue to be shipped to Millhaven—a maximum-security facility— because of the closure of the Regional Treatment Centre in Kingston, Canada in fall 2013.

According to Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, the federal government has, in fact, developed a strategy to address prisoners' mental health needs, but has failed to competently implement it, which could have negative consequences for public safety.

"The last thing we want as a society is someone to come out of prison with less mental health than when they went in. I think we need to be very worried about this," Latimer said, adding that Millhaven's former segregation unit is "totally unsuitable" for housing mentally ill prisoners.

"It's underground, its small cells intended for punishment," she said. "And another coat of paint has not really converted it into a treatment centre where effective help can be rendered to these people."

In July 2013, Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator of Canada, wrote to federal corrections commissioner Don Head that Millhaven's former segregation unit—which is in the oldest part of the prison's complex, built more than 40 years ago—was not fit for mentally ill prisoners.

"Despite efforts to remodel the unit and its surrounding infrastructure, my impression is that it is grossly inadequate as a psychiatric facility by both community and correctional standards," Sapers wrote.

"The unit is basically a narrow corridor with aging cells with little natural light, poor ventilation and no common areas," he added. "Given the lack of common areas, it is foreseeable that many of the most mentally disordered and in need of treatment in the Ontario Region will remain locked in their cell for unacceptable periods of time."

In an April 2012 report to the UN's Committee against Torture, the CHRC recommended "strictly prohibiting" using segregation to deal with mentally ill prisoners. And the UN long ago determined that placing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement can amount to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture."

Farhat Rehman said that her son's transfer to Millhaven                has exacerbated his schizophrenia.

Deemed unfit to stand trial for four years before being found guilty in the stabbing death of his friend and mentor, Rehman's son is now hearing voices and his condition has worsened, she said, because of Millhaven's punitive measures and the facility's restricted visits.

"To see him suffer and to not get the health treatment that every Canadian has a right to," she said, "that really devastates me."


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