Survey focuses on public perceptions of mental illness in the criminal justice system
The Federal Government has released a preliminary report of its 2009 Annual National Justice Survey, which focuses on mental health issues. Introduced by the Department of Justice in 2007, the survey collects in-depth, timely and policy-relevant public opinion on current issues. The 2009 survey is a first of its kind, as public opinion research has never been carried out on the topic of mental health and the criminal justice system.
The survey results, which consist of 4,008 respondents from a telephone sample and 1,000 respondents from an online sample, provide an understanding of the Canadian public’s perspective of justice and mental health issues. According to the survey, more than three-quarters of respondents agreed that it is important for the court to take the mental health needs of victims who testify into account, and that is it essential that people charged with a crime are able to understand what is going on and are able to communicate with their lawyers. As well, about three-quarters of respondents agreed that it is important for the court to consider the mental competency of people charged with a crime at the time the crime was committed.
More than one-third of respondents agreed that people should not be convicted of a crime if their mental competency prevented them from knowing what they were doing or that it was wrong, whereas more than one-third of respondents disagreed. While almost three-quarters of respondents agreed that there should be alternatives to the regular criminal court process for people charged with non-violent crimes who have mental health or developmental disorders, for violent crimes, only about half of respondents agreed that there should be alternatives to the regular court process.
More than three-quarters of respondents agreed that people who are found Unfit to Stand Trial (UST) or Not Criminally Responsible on Account of Mental Disorder (NCRMD) for both violent and non-violent crimes should remain under the supervision of the justice or mental health systems indefinitely, if necessary, for public safety reasons. However, approximately two-thirds of respondents agreed that people who are found UST or NCRMD for a non-violent crime and are detained in a hospital should be reintegrated back into society when detention in a hospital is no longer necessary for public safety reasons. This figure was significantly lower (approximately one-third) for those charged with violent crimes.
A full report of the survey will be released later this year.
See National Justice Survey 2009: Mental Health Disorders in the Criminal Justice System, Department of Justice Canada, 2010, available athttp://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca.