How has imprisoning our mentally ill population become so socially acceptable in our day and age?
Sunny Clearwater (Not his real name.) is languishing behind bars as the sole occupant of a prison cell in the Central North Penetanguishene prison facility. He has been incarcerated for the last twelve months where his mental health has worsen and spiraled downwards. His medical treatment is attended to by untrained guards who administer daily doses of sedatives to keep him under control, instead of trained psychiatrists and nurses administering recommended psychiatric medications. As a victim of years of physical and sexual abuse, Clearwater, a 32 year old native Canadian, who was well known to the mental health facility on his reserve as being an advanced paranoid schizophrenic, lost his job and went off his normal medications. Two months later he stabbed and killed his then roommate two hundred times, while delusional and in a state of psychosis responding to voices in his head.
After being incarcerated for more than six months, Clearwater’s attorney secured a forensic psychiatric examination by the head of a leading Canadian psychiatry hospital finding that Clearwater was not ‘Not Criminally Responsible’ for the death ‘By Reason on Mental Disorder’. The Crown Prosecutor in the case has consistently disputed and contested this finding citing Clearwater clearly understood the concept of right and wrong at the time of the killing. Sunny’s trial has now been held up for six months while the Crown arranges their own psychiatric examination in support of their murder charges and their record high conviction statistics. In the mean time Sunny’s mental health continues to run in a rampage and out of control.
Finding someone not criminally responsible or ‘NCR’ was suppose to be a way for the Canadian courts and the Canadian prison systems to acknowledge that although a person such as Clearwater has committed a crime, they have a mental illness or developmental delay that prevented them from understanding that their actions were wrong at the time. An NCR ruling is supposed to be society’s way of insuring that people with serious mental health issues get needed psychiatric treatment in a hospital setting, instead of being quickly cycled through the justice system and into a prison cell where they cannot get the treatment they need to be rehabilitated back into society as useful citizens. Currently a misconceived broad definition of ‘criminal responsibility’ and a Canadian justice system under pressure to get tough on criminals is keeping this ruling out of the reach of those for whom it was intended to protect.
RELATED ARTICLE: Mentally ill inmates increasingly held in solitary confinement at Canadian prisons.
Today within Canadian courts the threshold to be found to be criminally responsible by most crown prosecutors is extremely low. It is very difficult (To be found NCR.) even when everyone who has dealing with the person on a daily basis clearly recognizes the person is suffering from mental health issues such is the situation with Clearwater. Currently in our Canadian court system having been diagnosed with a mental illness will be no guarantee that the person will receive an NCR ruling. In Canadian courts today people who have committed a crime directly as a result of their mental illness are being found criminally responsible almost daily. According to how most Canadian crown officers are currently choosing to apply this law – if the person maintains the ability to assess that their actions were morally wrong, then the courts still consider them criminally responsible, even if the person would not have committed the crime if they were well. Are you beginning to understand now why Canada is jailing their mentally ill population?
In other words, while Clearwater, who clearly suffers from mental health issues and at some point might have known it was wrong to take a life, but he though he needed to kill his roommate, while in a mental delusion, he heard God tell him to do it. Clearwater is likely be found criminally responsible and remain in prison for life. Currently, Canada’s mentally ill population is grossly over represented and convicted by the courts and jailed by the prison system because Canadian society is convicting them for actions that are clearly connected to their illness. Yet society is not treating them while they are in jail meaning which ultimately means that when they are eventually re-released they reengage in even greater severe social conflicts. This also accounts for the current overuse of segregation and discrimination in the treatment of these mentally ill inmates within all current Canadian prison facilities.
Today within Canada there is a widespread belief that an NCR ruling is just an easy way out of prison for those arrested for a crime when in reality it can result in many more years under court supervision and mandatory treatment than the prison sentence people might receive. Under an NCR ruling the person remains under the courts authority until they are considered well enough to be safely returned back into society full-time not after a fixed jail term is served. In almost all current criminal cases where the Crown has laid very serious charges where lengthy prison terms could be involved most crown attorneys believed mentally ill defendants were simply malingers pretending to be mentally ill in order to go to a hospital instead of to a prison.
All the current problems in obtaining an NCR ruling cannot always be laid at the feet of the Crown. In less serious criminal cases where the mentally ill accused would appear to have to spend a much longer sentence under the supervision of the courts resulting from an NCR ruling than they would if they accepted a plea bargain and went to prison it is the accused own defense attorney that deprives them of their rightful NCR ruling by pleading them out to lesser charges. Both the Crown and the Defense simply has no time or tolerance for the mentally ill accused because of a wide spread belief they clog up the system and cause unnecessary delays in dealing with their cases. In the final analysis it should not matter what offense the mentally ill accused is charge with but does the psychiatric evidence warrant an NCR ruling or not. So, how has imprisoning Canada’s mentally ill population become so socially acceptable in the country? Simply put because it is so much easier, and more efficient, and certainly much cheaper to simply throw them into a prison cell instead of a psychiatric unit of a hospital. That is, unless the mentally ill person is one of your family members or a personal friend of yours. Then it becomes socially outrageous.
Paul Cogan is a writer for the republicandirtytricks.com and is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He specializes in coverage of justice, political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him by following him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/paul.f.cogan.
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