When society does think about criminal offenders, it probably refrains from thinking about their mental health. But the unfortunate truth is that the numbers show how this lack of empathy is reflected in the lack of treatments and services available to the over-abundant number of mentally ill offenders in the Canadian System.
There is a complex variety of reasons for why these numbers have climbed in the last couple of decades, sparking individuals and organizations to work to identify faults and build strategies for improvement. Canada has a responsibility to consolidate provincial and federal efforts to address the surge and the options available before, during and after incarceration.
Justice, health and corrections – typically thought of as independent branches – must in fact be recognized as needing to be a web of intricately intwined services. Here’s why.
Coping Through Justice, Documentary
“If people think that putting people with mental health in jail is a solution – that something is going to happen there and they can tackle their issues there – they’re absolutely wrong.”
Ryan Fritsch joined Legal Aid Ontario in 2012 to lead the development of LAO’s Mental Health Strategy, which marks the beginning of a long-term commitment to prioritizing, expanding and sustaining mental health rights and advocacy in Ontario’s legal system. The strategy can be found here.
“If these people don’t need to be criminalized, why are we pushing them down that path? Why aren’t we taking more of a diversionary approach?”
Mental health clients account for 25% of LAO’s yearly budget, and one in two clients at legal aid clinics have a mental illness or addiction. Although Legal Aid Ontario is a provincial institution established under a provincial statute – the Legal Aid Services Act – some of its funding does come from the Federal Government through a cost-sharing program. The Liberal government’s 2016 budget has committed to increasing funding in support of criminal legal aid in Canada.
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