Mentally ill individuals in limbo: obstacles and opportunities for providing psychiatric services to corrections inmates with mental illness

Behav Sci Law. 2009 Sep-Oct;27(5):811-31. doi: 10.1002/bsl.899.


For more than two millennia, prison reformers and inmate advocates have lamented the ethical and humanitarian injustices experienced by persons with mental illness in correctional settings; yet, we continue to see mentally ill individuals stuck in limbo between health care and custody. Using a case study that exemplifies the challenges that can prevent the provision of efficient mental health care in correctional settings, we identify the gaps and failures in service delivery, and provide specific strategies for streamlining inmates' access to psychiatric assessment and treatment. As a backdrop, we present a brief overview of the reasons why correctional centres experience difficulties in ensuring expedient care (e.g., competence, mental health legislation, waitlists) as well as reviewing the prevalence of mental health needs in correctional settings. Using the partnership and strategic alignment that have been developed for several years between our forensic psychiatric system and our provincial correctional system, we provide a roadmap to successfully reducing wait times and enhancing service delivery to mentally ill inmates. In our view, custody admissions provide a rare opportunity to provide mental health (and other services) to marginalized individuals who often slip through the cracks. imPROVE and related programs and strategies have been found to be effective means of preventing these opportunities from being lost.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Mentally Ill Persons / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Mentally Ill Persons / psychology
  • Prisoners / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • Prisons / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Prisons / organization & administration*