We provide health care, including mental health and addiction care, to people in custody in British Columbia’s 10 provincial correctional centres.
Our patients, whom we call clients, receive both health and mental health assessments and care when they are admitted into one of B.C.'s 10 provincial correctional centres. Our teams make sure our clients receive the same quality of care as they would in the community, and that it continues once they are discharged and return to their lives.
To provide quality care that is readily available when clients need it, Correctional Health Services is integrated with B.C.’s general health care system, which is governed by the Ministry of Health. Our province is one of the first in Canada to move correctional health care responsibilities from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Health. This move follows recommendations from both the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the World Health Organization.
At any one time, about 2,700 clients are incarcerated in one of B.C.’s correctional centres. This means we see about 18,000 clients per year. These facilities are different from federal penitentiaries. For information on federally incarcerated inmates, visit Correctional Service Canada.
People who are incarcerated are often in poorer health than the general population, and more likely to live with chronic illness. Often, they have faced barriers to care before becoming incarcerated. To meet their specific needs, we offer the following services:
- Medical and nursing care
- Mental health and substance use treatment programs and services
- Basic emergency response services
- Public health services such as flu immunization clinics
- Urgent dental care
- Pharmacy services
- X-ray imaging and lab work
- Health-related discharge planning to help clients transition successfully to community-based care
People in custody are much more likely to live with a mental illness or addiction than the general population. In fact, up to 60 per cent of people in custody have either a mental illness, an addiction, or both.
Given these needs, we’ve increased mental health and substance use supports for clients in our care. One key support is wide access to opioid agonist treatment, often called OAT, which uses medications such as Suboxone and methadone to help people manage addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Approximately 40 per cent of our client population is on opioid agonist treatment, and there is no waiting list. If a client is already on opioid agonist treatment when they are admitted to a correctional facility, we ensure they can stay on their medication. As part of transition planning, when clients are about to be discharged, we provide a prescription for their opioid agonist therapy, as well as a connection to a community physician, so they can continue their treatment.
A recent B.C. Death Review Panel showed that people who have recently been discharged from custody are at much higher risk of fatal overdose than the general population — especially within their first month of release.
To prevent overdose and help clients get on a healthier path as they return to their lives, we have stationed five community transition teams around the province. Currently, we have community transition teams working in Surrey, Prince George, Kamloops, Nanaimo, and Port Coquitlam. The transition teams help clients recovering from opioid-use disorder stay in recovery and access the treatment services they need. Each team consists of a social worker and a peer support worker who has experience with custody or addiction. They help clients fill prescriptions, connect with a physician, find stable housing, connect to vital family supports, and more.
Health care teams include physicians, nurses, mental health and substance use specialists, pharmacists, and other professionals. Clients can also see specialists via virtual health services.
Correctional Health Services works with BC Corrections as partners in client care. While the Correctional Health Services team provides care, correctional officers keep both staff and clients safe. To learn more about B.C.’s correctional centres, visit the BC Corrections website.