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Purpose Methodology Key messages
The purpose of this brief is to identify mental health and substance use policy issues in relation to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on correctional populations. These populations include (1) those with pre-existing mental health and substance use concerns, and (2) those without pre-existing concerns who are, nevertheless, experiencing adverse mental health and risk or harm from substance use related to the pandemic. This brief aims to provide guidance and recommendations for senior-level decision makers to improve mental health, substance use, and other human services and supports in correctional settings during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.
A scan of scientific and grey literature was conducted to identify what is known about the mental health and substance use impacts of COVID-19 and the associated infection control and prevention measures in federal, provincial, and territorial correctional services. Media sources were included where expert information was lacking, due to the rapidly evolving and unprecedented nature of the pandemic. Using a population health framework, the review considered the full range of mental health and substance use needs, including health promotion for all, prevention programs for those at higher risk (of adverse effects), and services and supports for those with mental health and/or substance use concerns. This brief focuses on those who are currently incarcerated or have been decarcerated since the onset of the pandemic. While pre-charge diversion and prevention approaches (such as alternative court treatment models) are beyond the scope of this brief, continuity of care and discharge-planning issues that share fundamental similarities are explored. A first draft of these findings was circulated for comment to leading experts and members of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC’s) expert advisory group on justice issues, as well as to Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Correctional Service Canada (CSC). The MHCC considered all input in developing this policy brief. A focus group was also conducted with six people who had lived and living experience of criminal justice involvement. Focus group questions were shaped by the issues identified in the brief, and were validated and corroborated by the experiences heard. Illustrative quotes from the focus group are featured throughout the brief.