Criminal Justice and Mental Health

The news media has a tendency to focus on tragic and violent events involving people with mental illnesses, despite the rarity of these illnesses.

This has led to the unfortunate consequence of exaggerating the perspective between mental illness and violence,and an exaggeration of the likelihood that a person with mental illness will turn to crime and violence.

This does not reflect the realities of people who have mental illness and their involvement with the criminal justice system.

Emphasis must be place in the human nature of mental illness. These people aren’t ‘evil’. They’re not criminals wishing to do harm,or scam, cheat, steal, murder, or destroy society.

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They are people,and sometimes people get sick.

It is estimated that around 1 in 5 people in Canada alone experience a mental disorder in their lifetimes. This equates to 20% of the population of Canada.

This means that most of us know or knew a person who is, in some way, shape, or form, involved with a mental illness of some sort.

And of the people who go on to develop mental illnesses and disorders, some become involved in the criminal justice system. However, not all of these individuals have actually committed a crime.

According to a past study done in order to study the relationship between police contact involving those with mental health issues, it was discovered that 40% of police contact in such situations was for non-criminal behavior.

To give you a better understanding of the realities of these encounters, these interactions can be instances in which people with mental disorders are acting strangely in a public, everyday setting. The people around them naturally become concerned and call the police in an attempt to help them.

Then, the police will often speak to the person to calm them. They then might offer to call a friend or relative of the person in question to assist them, perhaps with a ride home or a person to confide in.

Other times the encounter may be that of a suicide attempt. The police in this situation will attempt to de-escalate the situation and attempt to transport the affected person to the hospital to get them help and treatment.

It goes without saying that some mentally-disturbed individuals are indeed arrested for criminal behavior. Most of the time, these crimes tend to be relatively minor offenses like shoplifting, theft, vandalism, public disturbances, or destruction of property.

Some of these people are not found to be criminally responsible for these crimes. In such circumstances, they bypass the bail bonds process and are instead taken to a psychiatric facility for care. Some are criminally accountable for these crimes and face sentencing through the courts.

Unfortunately, some people with mental illnesses do become violent. However, mental illness is not a reliable predictor of violence, and those who suffer a mental disorder are much more likely to become a victim of violence than a perpetrator of violence.

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