N.L. Human Rights Commission concerned over mentally ill, intellectually disabled inmates

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The Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador says it's received numerous complaints from inmates on the use of segregation and a reported failure to accommodate religious beliefs. 

In a letter addressed to Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons, the commission said the special handling unit — known as the SHU — has "become the norm in responding to persons with mental and physical disabilities."

"We are gravely concerned that persons with mental health concerns or intellectual disabilities may not be receiving the treatment they need, and worse, are being subjected to long periods of segregation in crowded and unsafe, inhumane conditions," said Commission Vice Chair Kimberley Mackay in the letter dated Aug. 8. 

Due to mounting pressure on the healthcare system, Mackay said more individuals with mental health issues are committing crimes and, in turn, are being incarcerated. 

"We are lacking any clear insight or statistics from the Department of Justice on the use and duration of segregation of inmates and the current treatment of persons with mental health and intellectual disabilities," she said.

"We believe there is an immediate need for training of correctional officers to address treatment of persons with mental health and intellectual disabilities, as well as human rights training and awareness."

The commission asked that the province do an updated review of correctional facilities, with a focus on segregation and the treatment of inmates with mental health conditions or intellectual disabilities.

Mackay also requested the department increase transparency and accountability surrounding correctional facilities.

"At a minimum, we query what checks and balances are in place to ensure the use of segregation in our correctional facilities does not violate the Human Rights Act."