Amid Reforms, Ontario Prisons See Spike in Suicide Tries

In an average year, about 100 inmates attempt suicide in the Canadian province. But 160 tried suicide in just the first six months this year, calling into the question reforms meant to take a more humane approach to inmate care.

At a time when Ontario prison officials have vowed to take a more humane approach to inmate care, the Canadian province has recorded a significant rise in the number of suicide attempts in its correctional facilities, reports The Globe and Mail. Over the past decade, provincial institutions have averaged 106 suicide attempts a calendar year. Six months into 2017, that number has already reached 160, according to Howard Sapers, the province’s independent correctional adviser. The hiring of Sapers, a tireless critic of practices in the federal prison system during his 12-year run as Correctional Investigator, was one in a string of reform-minded announcements the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services made as it tried to overcome a series of recent scandals.

But little information has been released to show the actual effects of those recent changes. At worst, the spike in suicide attempts suggests the ministry’s efforts are floundering. At best, it demonstrates the extreme difficulty of overhauling a prison system the scale of Ontario’s, with its roughly 7,800 prisoners, 6,500 staff and 26 institutions. Either way, the ministry will not publicly acknowledge the issue. Ministry staff confirmed they had supplied Sapers with the attempted-suicide figures but declined to make the same data available to The Globe and Mail.