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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Camia Weaver

Reprinted from "Criminal Justice" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (8), p. 16

The range of mentally disordered offenders currently in jails and prisons is somewhere between 15 to 40%; highly disproportionate to the occurrence of mental illness in the population at large. A number of factors contributing to the disproportionate incarceration of persons with mental illness have been identified:

  • Lack of sufficient community support including housing, income, and mental health services. Persons with mental illness have a harder time finding employment and housing, and maintaining consistent contact with friends, relatives and treatment providers. It is estimated that 30%–35% of Canada’s homeless population have a mental illness. Many become isolated, homeless, hungry, and poor due to their symptoms

  • High rate of substance abuse. Over 50% of people with mental illness have a co-­occurring substance use disorder. Co-­occurring disorders are more difficult to treat than either mental illness or substance abuse alone, and there are insufficient treatment programs for the growing demand.

  • The ‘Forensic’ label. Treatment is sometimes refused to persons who have committed a criminal offence or have been previously incarcerated. Hospital staff may refuse admission because it is considered a criminal matter, or the person may be considered too dangerous or disruptive for treatment by community resources—even if the offence for which the person was arrested or convicted does not involve violence.

  • Problems with treatment. Some persons with mental illness try numerous treatments without success. Others refuse treatment because they cannot accept that they have an illness, they dislike medication side effects, or due to symptoms of the illness itself. Lack of sufficient housing, income, and support also interfere with the ability to maintain treatment.

  • Lack of specialized cross-training for both criminal justice and mental health professionals. Both systems need to provide information and training to staff on understanding mental health and law enforcement issues, respectively, in order to create successful collaboration.

  • Lack of timely access to mental health assessment and treatment. Easy access is necessary for early intervention and prevention of deterioration, and also to provide law enforcement, courts, corrections, and communities the ability to access appropriate treatment for individuals in a timely way...

About the Author

Camia coordinated the Building Capacity: Mental Health and Police Project (BC:MHAPP). The Project, led by the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division, aims to improve interactions between police, emergency services, and people with mental illness. This fact sheet excerpt, one in a series of eight, was produced in 2005 as part of the BC:MHAP Project. For the full text of all eight fact sheets, see

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