Research indicates that lack of access to timely and appropriate mental health services is a fundamental part of the problem.
Ottawa (6 March 2012) - The Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) has released a position paper pressing the provincial and federal governments to work together to reduce the rising number of people with mental illness who are being unduly criminalized.
"Over the past decades an increasingly disproportionate number of people with mental illness have become embroiled with the criminal justice system-many for relatively minor offences," says Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, author of the new CPA paper published in the February issue of The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
"More and better coordinated resources as well as increased monitoring and research are needed to reduce the number of Canadians with mental illness in our jails," says Dr. Chaimowitz.
CPA calls on the federal government to work with the provinces to ensure they remain accountable for providing sufficient and appropriate community and hospital mental health resources, affording people with mental illness adequate diagnosis and treatment before they reach the judicial system.
The CPA further advocates that all levels of government review the impact of the new federal crime legislation to ensure people with mental illness are not unfairly affected. The Association also proposes that the Mental Health Commission of Canada and government create a mechanism to monitor the interplay among prisons, hospitals and the community.
Research into the factors that predict when people with serious mental illness become involved in the criminal justice system and what mechanisms prevent criminal justice involvement is also recommended.
Lack of access to timely and appropriate mental health services is a fundamental part of the problem. In the last 40 years Canada's psychiatric institutions have been emptied and the number of beds in psychiatric and general hospitals significantly cut. Yet the promised mental health services to support people in their communities are poorly resourced and fragmented.
"In desperation, some family members charge their loved one in the hope that they will be able to access service through the forensic psychiatry system," explains Dr. Chaimowitz. "Unfortunately the price of this uncertain access is the criminalization of the individual."
According to the Correctional Investigator's last annual report, 38 per cent of male federal offenders admitted to penitentiary required further assessment to determine if they have mental health needs. The same is true for over 50 per cent of female offenders. This far exceeds the rate in general society.
"Correctional systems are not benign. The suicide rate for incarcerated people is almost eight times that in the community and the homicide rate 14 times greater," says Dr. Chaimowitz.
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