Are Prisons the New Asylums?

Submitted by Elayne Greeley on May 11, 2017 - 6:48am


I was lucky enough to hear Howard Sapers and Colleen Hanrahan speak yesterday with thanks from the IAPC and the Harris Centre. We were invited to consider the policy and systems impact of deinstitutionalization mentally ill individuals.

How has the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill individuals in the past few decades contributed to todays prison population and how has the administration of these systems responded? 

Colleen Hanrahan presented her research on a mental health in a Canadian prison. She outlined the polarity or tension between a prison/correctional systems and a health care systems. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the prison system always wins. The primary focus being security under a paramilitary culture who’s staff have high school education with additional training. The health care system alternatively having a primary focus on patient care who’s culture is interdisciplinary team work and staff who are licensed professionals.


Howard Sapers spoke about on the historical models and concepts of segregation and brought us to present day in the Ontario prison system. No surprise that he also illustrated the polarizing  tension between security or prison systems thinking and health care thinking. Todays story tells us that mental illness is a prime indicator for extensive and debilitating use of segregation within the prison system.

So what does this leave us with? The Moral Crisis of the Right to Health, a urgent call for reform and the understanding that prisons are a good way to keep people out of sight.

This blog was published with the permission of Elayne Greeley. Original source can be found at her WordPress blog here.

Further Resources:

  • Check out this interview by Dia Mamatis on the mental health and well being of people in Toronto
  • Read - Advocacy in Canada's Affordable Housing and Homeless Sectors by Nick Folvo 
  • Register for our monthly magazine Engage! - an online magazine published monthly that provides the latest thinking in community change