90 Days

When a prisoner is incarcerated health care becomes the responsibility of the government. Individuals in jails and prisons are neutered of any capability to seek out or enlist assistance.  When we are dealing with individuals with mental health concerns, availing oneself of health care is often not within the capabilities of the offender as symptoms often further reduce an inmate’s ability to vocalize and enlist assistance. If an individual is incapable of insight into their illness they are also incapable of being proactive with regards to their health. It then becomes imperative for the authorities to institute conditions and opportunities to address the needs of the offender.

The conservative government thinks they are dealing appropriately with the mental health needs of inmates by ensuring “proper” mental health screening takes place within 90 days. Would a similar time frame be acceptable to Canadians if we were speaking about a physical illness? An inmate with diabetes, heart disease or many other conditions could in fact perish with the same concern. Mental illness seems less fatal but within the prison population it can easily be just that. I was two steps from being beaten with the symptoms and delusions I experienced while incarcerated.

Some prisoners are prone to manipulation and bullying and the mentally ill make for easy prey. Thankfully, I was taken under the wing of prisoners who ruled the units I was held in. They let me sit at their table and were instrumental in my weight loss program. My meals were divided and through delusion my liquid intake consisted of licking my hands when I washed them. Weight Watchers was financially not an option so I am forever grateful.

It seems incongruent that members of parliament almost end up with a pension after 90 days while those with mental health care needs are exposed to the same time frame for assessment. It is further incredulous that after 90 days solitary confinement can be considered treatment. MP’s would wet themselves after two days but the mentally ill are expected to endure as they hold no value after the handcuffs are fastened.

When an inmate is first processed they are given a Tuberculosis test within the first 24 hours. If the overall health of the prison population can be compromised by a physical illness is it not realistic to assume mental health matters are as important? As Canadians we would be alarmed if a broken bone was considered important within a 90 day time frame but we go about our merry way when mental health concerns are dealt with in this fashion.

We can be pleased and comfortable that these issues affect prisoners but the stigma leaks into our communities and infects and affects all who are touched by mental illness. The conservative approach is a display of unhealthy and unacceptable attitudes; it is stigma in action cemented in policy. It is an affront to Canadian values and it is disgraceful. There are hundreds of organizations and countless individuals who devote resources to combating what the conservative government institutes as policy.

Some would say I have gone too far in calling conservatives immoral. If it is moral to expose individuals with a mental illness to conditions which exasperate their illnesses, I stand corrected. We are not mending the broken bone but insisting prisoners walk with fractures. A tough on crime policy is misguided but when it becomes a tough on mental illness policy it becomes an affront to every Canadian affected by mental illness.

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