The Shepody Healing Centre is home to some of Canada’s most notorious inmates – some of whom have been found not criminally responsible for their crimes due to mental illness – and soon the New Brunswick government will have to foot some of the cost for treating those patients.

Dorchester Penitentiary is a foreboding and ominous building that has sat in the small Village of Dorchester since 1880. While the federal corrections facility looks like a prison from the 19th century, a small unit tucked away behind its walls is anything but.

The Oasis Room is one of several treatment units at the Shepody Health Centre where inmates can go to relax and calm themselves, usually during moments of crisis.

Julie Bedard, the executive director of the Shepody Health Centre, says inmates are always monitored when using the room.

“That environment here, we use it to help the offender or patient to manage their emotion, regulate their emotion,” she explains. “If you think about the family member who’s suffering from a mental disorder, it’s not easy. It’s not more easy for an offender.”

The residents of the Shepody Healing Centre are either inmates found guilty of a crime, or patients who committed a crime, but have been found not criminally responsible.

In either case, the goal is to treat their illness so they can be rehabilitated back into the community, or get them well enough so they can complete their sentence at another prison.

Group therapy sessions are conducted in an occupational therapy room in the afternoon, so patients don’t have to get up at a particular time, and the 53 beds at the Shepody Healing Centre are always full.

Bedard says it can be an extremely challenging place to work, but there are times when it’s worth it, especially when a patient undergoes significant change during their time there.

“He was a really older offender, said he would never change and we could never do anything with him,” says Bedard, recalling a former inmate. “He was describing himself as stubborn and all that, to say that he completed a program, eight-month program. He went in front of the Parole Board of Canada, he was released.”

Bedard says the man became a fisherman, and she still has a Christmas card from him.

New Brunswick’s not criminally responsible patients have been treated at the Shepody Healing Centre for years, but it’s not known exactly how many have been admitted, due to privacy legislation.

Now, the federal government has decided the province must foot the bill for patients staying at Shepody. The federal and provincial governments are negotiating a deal to continue the care of New Brunswick patients with high-security needs, and Correctional Service Canada tells CTV News they are close to reaching an agreement, but won’t reveal a timeline or a dollar amount.

Meanwhile, Bedard says a place like Shepody is critical.

“It’s not always easy to work in this environment, but I mean, that’s what is really nourishing, to see them progressing, stabilizing, understanding their mental health,” she says.

The Shepody Healing Centre is the only facility of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Laura Brown