Another…….we don’t want to know.

Our letters usually aren’t written with expectations of a response. They’re intended to increase the sale of antacids. Sometimes a comment comes back, and occasionally a second letter will go out as an addendum to a first to provoke a reaction. More of that is warranted but time is a valuable and limited resource. Then there is the rare occasion when an answer will appear months later, unexpected but presenting an opening for a comeback. This is one example, dusted off from last year’s files but worth a chuckle.

Late last July, the Toronto Star published “PTSD rates high among male corrections officers” under Gloria Galloways’ byline. In it, 36% of male federal prison guards reported being affected by post-traumatic stress disorder caused by “the dangerous and emotionally corrosive atmosphere within Canada’s prisons.”

The article voiced the complaints of guards and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers which represents them, claiming that not enough is being done to offer treatment and resources to the men who are suffering. Many have to pay for their own therapy, and disability benefits are difficult to access. There have been some improvements to available assistance, particularly in Ontario and Manitoba, but the union asks the federal government to work with all provinces for changes.

We wrote to Ralph Goodale, the Liberal cabinet member responsible for Correctional Service of Canada on August 2…….

One factor always overlooked which exacerbates the challenges for guards is the incidents of PTSD among federal prison inmates. The environmental conditions stressing CSC staff members also affect the men and women on the other side of the bars in the same way and to the same degree. Some inmates may already display symptoms of the disorder when they first enter the prison system, a result of their life’s experience.

The difficulty for inmates is that assets which guards access in the community, or to which they can petition for redress, are not available in prison health-care units, or are withheld arbitrarily, or have a limited efficacy. The result is an overall highly charge negative atmosphere. Given those circumstances, it is no wonder a large percentage of guards in our federal prisons are asking for help.

Solutions must include remedies for everyone behind the walls.

That was it. No response expected. Frankly, no response welcomed.

Then, in early December, a letter dated December 2 arrived over the minister’s signature, and unapologetically began with……

Thank you for your correspondence of August 2, 2016………

It went on for over a page…….

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has a legislative mandate to provide every inmate with essential health care and reasonable access to non-essential mental health care, etc………

Right.

CSC provides offenders with a variety of mental health interventions, including assessments and treatment, etc……..

Right.

In the fiscal year 2015-2016, CSC spent approximately $77 million on mental health services, etc…..

Right.

Our government is focused on ensuring that federal correctional institutions provide a safe and secure environment, etc…….

Right. No mention of the guards’ complaints.

This deserved another kick at the can

December 22, 2016

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: PTSD & prison guards II

Dear Minister:

Thank you for your December 2 response to mine of August 2. Your staff may have prepared that letter for your signature, but I must believe you endorse its contents.

I don’t intend we belabour the subject of the stressors to which prison guards are subject in our federal institutions, but your letter exposes a vulnerable CSC flank. Given all the resources and programming available to address the mental health of inmates, and the $77 million spent in one fiscal year (2015-2016) to support these services, one question goes begging.

Why then are so many correctional officers looking for help with PTSD?

What is done to determine the efficacy of these inmate programs? How well are the resources delivered, what ongoing oversight monitors inmate engagement, and how does scheduling impact outcomes? $77 million is a lot of money; how well are stakeholders embedded in the allocation process? And finally, how well is CSC collaborating with community resources?

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

One thing neither CSC management nor the federal ministry responsible for it seems inclined to do is analyze the who’s, why’s, what’s and where’s that result in over a third of prison guards claiming a disabling condition. That closet door opens a Pandora’s box.

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