VICTORIA - Improving continuity of care for inmates as they move between correctional centres and the community will be a key goal as the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) assumes responsibility for the delivery of medical services at B.C.'s 10 provincial correctional centres on Oct. 1, 2017.
Although the provincial inmate count stands at approximately 2,700, provincial correctional centres saw more than 37,000 individual intakes and releases in 2016. Delivery of health-care services by PHSA is expected to facilitate more seamless, consistent quality of physical, mental, substance use and emergency health-care services for this population, in and out of custody.
"More coordinated, continuous management of mental health and substance use issues for inmates, both in a correctional facility and after they leave, will help to address many of the underlying factors leading to their involvement in the justice system," said Mike Morris, Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety. "As inmates are released, this new model will help them make a seamless transition to community-based care, fitting with our goals of rehabilitation and keeping our communities safe."
Many people come into custody with complex needs, including high incidence of mental health and substance use challenges and infectious diseases. Most inmates are in poorer health than the average Canadian. The shift in delivery will allow for improved information sharing, better management of mental health and substance use issues, and ongoing treatment of infections, such as hepatitis C and HIV.
"A majority of B.C. Corrections' clients have been diagnosed with mental health and substance use concerns, and continuity of health-care services for these patients is critical," said Health Minister Terry Lake. "Particularly in the face of the ongoing overdose crisis, providing enhanced recovery-based treatment, initiated in the correctional system and then bridged to the care providers in the community, will better address mental health and substance use issues in the long-term."
The Province also hopes that greater consistency in the provision of health-care services to inmates will help lessen their involvement with the justice system. The gaps in the current BC Corrections health system result in downstream health, social, and legal costs to the province. By addressing health service delivery, government will be able to make more effective use of current resources in the health system and within justice and social services.
"This is an important change that will help to improve health, mental health and substance use supports for inmates, key needs that have been identified not just in B.C. but internationally," said Lynn Pelletier, vice-president, BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of PHSA.
This change in the provision of health service responds to a recommendation in Parliamentary Secretary for Corrections Laurie Throness's report, Standing Against Violence, in which he recommended the Ministry of Health explore options to better serve inmates with mental health issues and complex behaviours.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada recommended in 2016 that provinces and territories transfer the responsibility of correctional medical, mental, and public health- care delivery from their respective ministry of justice to their ministry of health.
In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an extensive report on health in correctional settings recommending a "whole-prison approach" to the care and promotion of the health and wellbeing of those in custody. This report builds on their 2003 declaration recommending that penitentiary health be an integral part of the public health system.
Alberta and Nova Scotia are currently the only Canadian jurisdictions to provide health care for inmates through their health ministries, rather than justice ministries.
Approximately 60% of inmates admitted into the provincial correctional system are diagnosed with substance abuse and/or a mental health diagnosis.
Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General 250 213-3602
Ministry of Health 250 952-1887
Provincial Health Services Authority 778 867-7472