Toronto, July 29, 2016 - High turnover in provincial corrections facilities can make it tougher to manage inmates’ mental health challenges. At the same time, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) employees’ knowledge of, and attitudes towards, mental illness may vary.
CAMH has just completed an ambitious program to train more than 5,000 Ontario Corrections employees on issues of mental health and human rights. The training also addresses issues such as trauma, resiliency, forensic practices, and risk prevention.
With its expertise in mental health and addiction, “CAMH was a natural partner for this training,” said CAMH Education Operations Manager Laura Mattila. “The goal is to strengthen the Ontario prison system so it can better accommodate and manage mental illness, connect inmates with the right kinds of care, and increase the workplace quality of life for correction employees.”
Addressing complex needs with practical solutions
She notes that inmates are sent to a provincial corrections facility for sentences of less than two years, or in cases where they are awaiting trial or judgment. “With brief sentences and high inmate turnover rates, the MCSCS required a training curriculum focused on practical, short-term interventions to support inmates with complex needs.”
Key areas of the curriculum included human rights obligations, accommodating inmates’ needs, barriers related to mental health symptoms, the impact of punitive measures, and vulnerable populations (including women, aboriginal, and LGBTQ inmates).
In response to an earlier human rights case, the Ministry is implementing new measures including inmate mental health screening, treatment plans, and training for front line staff and managers on mental health and human rights issues.
MCSCS turned to CAMH’s global expertise in mental health and its capacity to deliver required training at the provincial level.
Diverse expertise: Some members of the CAMH team on the Corrections Training initiative included (from left): Michael Shaw, Jim McNamee, Asha Maharaj, Sandy Simpson and Linda Callander.
A series of more than 200 two-day training sessions ran from May to July. Each session was delivered by a pair of facilitators, one representing CAMH’s mental health expertise, and the other from MCSCS, providing institutional knowledge and context.
Aligning training with employee needs
Mental Health Training Project Lead Grant Hilborn of the Ontario Correctional Services College noted the training content was tightly aligned with needs of employees. “CAMH’s curriculum designers toured our institutions and spoke to corrections staff, including many front-line staff, to understand their perspectives and see what they would find most helpful.”
The primary goal was to educate our staff on how to recognize, respond and refer inmates who have a mental health challenge,” Grant said. “Another key element was explaining our obligations as they related to human rights.”
Courtney Toner MCSCS Senior Staff Development Officer, presents lessons learned from CAMH-MCSCS training project.
From the point of view of an inmate, “appropriate mental health response is a human right,” said Chief of Forensic Psychiatry Sandy Simpson of CAMH’s Complex Mental Illness (CMI) group. “Corrections officers may be challenged at times to know how to address mental health issues – this can affect them personally, as well as affecting the inmate. We are using an evidence-based approach to equip corrections officers with the knowledge they need to provide appropriate responses and better outcomes for inmates.”
Tapping into diverse expertise
CAMH’s effort included a partnership of its CMI Forensic group, CAMH Education, and the Business Development Office. The team developed a specialized curriculum to meet MCSCS learning objectives and conducted a robust evaluation of the Train the Trainer program. The team drew on diverse expertise across CAMH in forensics, education, underserved populations, outpatient services, legal services, health equity, aboriginal engagement and human resources.
“It’s a really great example of how teams across CAMH can contribute to such a large project for a great outcome” said CAMH Business Development Office Manager Michael Shaw.
“We are really pleased to help an important community partner meet a critical need,” said CAMH BDO Director Linda Callander. “MCSCS is building capacity to provide high-quality mental health support.”
“CAMH’s objectives to care, discover, learn and build are a great foundation for this training initiative,” said Ivan Silver, Vice-President Education. “We will continue to partner with MCSCS, and to assist in evaluation as we move forward. This initiative enhances the safety and wellness of both inmates and the dedicated employees in the Ontario corrections field.”
CAMH is advising Correctional Services Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse on a national initiative that aims to break the cycle of addiction for offenders when they move in between prison and the community.