Contrary to some commonly held assumptions, the existence of a mental illness is not necessarily linked to increased criminal behaviour. There are many misconceptions about mental illnesses and a poor understanding of how people with serious mental health issues wind up in the criminal justice system.
Although the vast majority of people living with mental health and addictions conditions rarely come into contact with the criminal justice system, there is an over-representation of people with serious mental health issues in Canadian courts and correctional/remand facilities. There is evidence to show that any time spent in custody may aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions and ultimately impede recovery and successful transition back into the community. The justice system does, however, sometimes serve as the first point of contact for accessing mental health and addictions services for people who had previously never accessed services and supports.
It is imperative that a cross-sectoral approach be utilized to coordinate services and supports for individuals with mental health and addictions conditions who come into contact with the justice system, as it may serve as a key turning point in their lives. Government and social service providers must work closely together to serve people with mental health and addictions issues who are vulnerable to entering the criminal justice system and effectively address the social determinants of health to prevent a repetitive cycle occurring.
As part of this approach, CMHA Ontario provides policy advice to the Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee (HSJCC), a cross-sectoral collaborative that coordinates resources and services for people who are in conflict with the law. The Secretariat for the HSJCC is housed at CMHA Ontario.
Court support programs are central to providing mental health and addictions support to people in the criminal justice system, by assisting clients in accessing treatment programs, counseling services, housing supports and addictions-related services, as well as providing a regular source of contact and support for clients as they move through the justice system. Court support teams also advocate on behalf of clients to assist them in obtaining positive results and reducing recidivism through effectively addressing underlying mental health and addictions issues. Many CMHA branches across Ontario offer court support services and can be easily accessed through Connex Ontario or by contacting your local Ontario CMHA branch.