May 26, 2011
It’s not often I agree with federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. After all, he’s the one pandering to public opinion by calling for more prisons so we can show criminals who’s boss.
But he’s on record now as saying that mentally ill people all to often wind up in jail when they should be getting treatment at a proper health facility.
“I think there are better ways to treat mentally ill people than to put them inside prisons.”
In the community approach to care, there is often a lack of supervision and mentally ill people can wind up getting in trouble with the law, he added.
He said he’s in discussions with provincial counterparts about the problem, but didn’t offer up any solutions. Any new mental health facilities would fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces.
The minister is on right track with these statements. It’s in the best interests of people with mental illnesses, not to mention society in general, for them to be given appropriate care.
The cynic in me says Toews may be looking for a way around the high costs of his tough-on-crime agenda. After all, if you send more people to jail, or keep them there longer, you need to build new prisons, hire more guards and pay a higher cost for warehousing the criminals.
If the provinces were to build new mental hospitals, that would free up space in federal prisons for criminals serving longer sentences. Taxpayers would still be on the hook for all this, but on the federal level Conservatives would find it easier to keep their promise of balancing the budget in the next few years.
Still, if we really must get tough on crime, this would be a more sensible way of doing it.