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Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System
Scope of the Issue
People with mental illness are increasingly involved with a criminal justice system that often does not have the capacity to assist them:
A 2008 research study by the Vancouver Police Department found that more than one-third of all calls for Vancouver Police involve people with mental health issues. In the Downtown Eastside, it increases to almost one in every two calls. A CMHA BC Division study found that over 30% of people came into contact with police during their first experience trying to access mental health care in BC.
...in the courts
The Street Crime Working Group (PDF)—a committee of the BC Justice Review Task Force—estimates that 35 to 40 persons with mental illness appear in Vancouver Provincial Courts every day. The most common offences committed by people with mental health problems are thefts under $5,000, assaults, and breaches of court orders.
...in the prisons
Research indicates that the majority of those in BC prisons face mental health problems. A 2008 study found over 30% of the corrections population had been diagnosed with a substance use disorder and an additional 26% were diagnosed with a mental disorder. Of those diagnosed with a substance use disorder, more than 75% were also diagnosed with a non drug-related mental disorder. Corrections Service of Canada (CSC) (PDF) reports "a considerable increase in the number of offenders experiencing mental health problems upon admission to CSC facilities." From 1997-2007, rates have risen by 71% among men and 61% among women.
The Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division has identified mental health and the justice system as a priority policy area. Our work in this area includes the following topics:
Police Interactions with People with Mental Illness