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Mental health issues contribute to overcrowding in jails

Former inmate believes focus on mental health and addictions should be paramount for both provincial and federal governments in dealing with criminal offenders.

Not everyone attending the announcement at the Niagara Regional Detention Centre agreed with the direction the provincial government is taking. (See related story here).

At the Thorold jail’s entrance, William “Sully” O’Sullivan held up an inverted Canadian flag and stood behind a sign to draw attention to mental health issues, such as suicide and drug overdoses, during Monday morning's announcement.

The St. Catharines resident, who grew up in Welland, knows of such issues firsthand. 

A former heroin addict, he has made local headlines.

“I proudly came forward about being raped by a priest,” he told Thorold News.

“I have done a lot of time myself. I got federal time—17 years, and spent time in all the (prison) systems,” he added, including an eight-month stint in Thorold.

“And I am grateful to this jail. I’ve been nine years sober and crime-free. I agree that you do the crime, you do the time, but the conditions are deplorable.”

He said too often the public believes if someone is in jail, they deserve whatever happens to them.

His protest stems from the fact that 42 recommendations were made months ago by the Provincial Attorney General’s office, “and not one has been implemented. It was after the last death at the Barton jail they did the inquiry,” he explained.

According to CBC news, 11 people died from drug overdoses at the Hamilton-Wentworth jail between 2010 and 2017; more than at any other provincial correctional institute in Ontario.

Shortly after being elected, the Ontario government under Doug Ford dismissed Howard Sapers, hired just two years prior to overhaul the province’s troubled correctional system.

Sapers, Ontario’s independent adviser on corrections reform, released a report on prison violence including recommendations to improve the system. The prior Liberal government committed the province to a series of prison reforms based on Sapers’s recommendations, rolling them into the Correctional Services and Reintegration Act.

But implementation was stalled by the new Conservative government.

“There are still three men in a cell, and the guards—up to a third of them are off because of stress leave and PTSD.”

This contributes to contraband drugs and tobacco being “easily accessible” within the jails, O’Sullivan added. “Fentanyl wasn’t around” during his jail time, Sullivan said. “Nowadays, it’s a lot worse.”

Still, he said, “I have hope. It’s an election year. It’s all about the awareness.”

Bob Liddycoat

About the Author: Bob Liddycoat

Bob Liddycoat is community editor of
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