"Staggering" wait-time to see psychologist at Ottawa jail | National Union of Public and General Employees

"Staggering" wait-time to see psychologist at Ottawa jail

Judges' decision reports that inmates at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre face "staggering" waiting time to see a psychologist. Jail is just one example of a crisis in correctional facilities across the country.

Ottawa (10 June 2013) - The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) thinks that a recent judges' decision on a dangerous offender case highlights the growing crisis of mentally ill offenders in the provinces' correctional facilities.

"Our members who work in provincial jails are telling us that the number of inmates with mental health or addiction problems is growing dramatically," said NUPGE's National President James Clancy.

“It is an inhumane way to deal with people who need treatment, not jail time.”

A jail in crisis

In his decision, the judge quotes the testimony of Ian Shields a staff psychologist who has worked at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) since 1986.  Shields is quoted as saying that “I probably have 100 people waiting to see me. And the inmates who are suicidal go right to the front of the line"

"Yesterday, we had five on suicide watch. I couldn’t get to all five of them in one day.” 

These long wait times add more fuel to reports that the Ottawa jail is in crisis - over-crowded, dirty and having poor access to health care services.  

Lack of services at jail

A ministry spokesperson tried to paint a positive face on the problem.  

Brent Ross, spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, told the Ottawa Citizen that the “delivery of mental health care in our correctional institutions is a top priority for our ministry but at times wait lists for care occur as cases are dealt with on the basis of urgency.”

However, there are only on staff two psychologists and one psychometrist providing support to the 554 inmates at OCDC.  It is reported that a psychiatrist sees inmates at the jail three days a week.

Estimates are that more than 25 per cent of inmates require mental health services.  The demand is much greater than the services available.

Growing problem of mentally ill inmates across Canada

This is a problem that is being reported across Canada.  

Adding to a growing crisis in over-crowding, the increasing numbers of inmates with mental health and addiction problems is creating a volatile situation.  

"Provinces need the federal government to step forward with the necessary resources to address existing problems such as over-crowding and crumbling facilities," explained Clancy.

"The federal anti-crime legislation is going to make a bad situation worse by imprisoning more and more people. Furthermore, these ‘tough on crime’ policies have been shown neither to reduce crime nor make our communities safer. It is a flawed approach that has been discredited wherever it has been tried."


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE