The corrections officers’ union voiced its opposition to the much-discussed omnibus crime legislation Bill C-10, which they say puts more people in jail, without addressing inmate mental issues.
The president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) spoke Thursday at a gathering to coincide with the third day of justice ministers meetings in Charlottetown.
The NUPGE said one in three prisoners have mental health issues, which they say endangers corrections officers and prisoners themselves.
The union said the problem will just get worse when C-10 becomes law.
"When people talk about Harper being tough on crime, I think Bill C-10 demonstrates that the Harper government is dumb on crime," said James Clancy, the NUPGE president Thursday.
The union called for federal and provincial governments to address the crisis of the amount of people with mental illnesses being incarcerated.
"Our members who work in provincial jails are telling us that the number of inmates with mental health or addiction problems is growing dramatically," said Clancy in a news release earlier on Thursday.
"The federal anti-crime legislation is going to make a bad situation worse by imprisoning more and more people," he added. "It is an inhumane way to deal with people who need treatment, not jail time."
The union estimates the number of mental health cases in jails is growing 10 per cent a year.
The union called for more training for corrections officers, more support staff such as nurses and psychologists, and more beds in facilities.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Bill C-10 will keep violent and repeat offenders in jail longer.
"The cost to victims on an annual basis of crime is $100 billion dollars."
Toews also said much work has been done on mental health issues of prisoners, for example, there was a symposium recently held in Alberta, where ministers agreed to bring in health and social service workers to collaborate on an action plan.
The Island has two jails – in Summerside and Charlottetown and two youth facilities.
P.E.I.’s Justice Minister Janice Sherry said the Island jails have seen a 30 per cent increase in inmates in recent years. P.E.I. has about 100 corrections officers and about 100 youth workers.
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