FREDERICTON (GNB) – The Department of Justice and Public Safety, in consultation with the Department of Health, plans to review and improve addiction and mental health services in provincial correctional institutions following the release of a report by Auditor General Kim MacPherson. 

“We take the issue of addiction and mental health services in provincial correctional institutions very seriously,” said Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry. “Ensuring these services are accessible and effective is a priority for the department.”

Landry and Health Minister Benoît Bourque thanked the auditor general for her report. 

“We feel that the auditor general’s recommendations are very fair,” said Bourque. “We have already begun working on them through a provincial committee that will ensure oversight and solutions.” 

The two departments have announced that the existing joint standing committee on forensic services will develop a working committee comprised of representatives from both departments, as well as from regional health authorities. The working committee is to develop comprehensive solutions that address the report’s recommendations.

Those recommendations include implementing a recognized mental health screening tool in the admissions process; ensuring community-based addiction and mental health programs, including counselling and therapy, are available to offenders; and gathering addiction and mental health data to better identify the need for such services in correctional institutions.

“One example I can provide is that we are implementing the final touches to allow nursing staff working for the regional health authorities within correctional facilities to access the addictions and mental health services client database, as recommended by the auditor general,” said Bourque. “This will enhance care for existing clients by validating treatment history and informing case plans during their incarceration.” 

Prior to the release of the report, the two departments were working with regional health authorities to develop a pilot project that would give inmates with mental health or addiction issues better access to community-based clinicians, specifically through the use of e-health technologies. While this project is focused on existing addictions and mental health services clients, the working committee will review best practices and assess opportunities to expand this approach and enhance care for all offenders identified as having an addiction or mental health problem.

MacPherson’s report recommends an individualized protocol approach for offenders with mental health issues who are in segregation, which should be integrated into treatment plans and reviewed by mental health professionals. Landry said work on this recommendation has already begun, as policy changes regarding segregation in correctional institutions were recently implemented after a review by the department.

“The focal point of the review was to determine methods of reducing the use of segregation and identifying less intrusive measures when managing the behaviour of offenders,” said Landry. “Changes to policy and procedure were made, and segregation is only considered after all other placement options are exhausted.” 

Members of the working committee will review each of the auditor general’s recommendations over the next year. A final report will be presented to the departments of Justice and Public Safety and Health by June 30, 2019.