People with mental illness too often landing in prison instead of hospitals, experts say

October 3, 2017
Article Source
Toronto Star

Brian Rose could be in prison right now. He could be languishing behind bars, his mental health spiralling downwards, his needs attended to by guards instead of psychiatrists and nurses.

Rose, 37, has paranoid schizophrenia. He killed his grandmother in 2010, while delusional and in a state of psychosis.

But a court found the Oshawa resident "not criminally responsible" for the death "by reason of mental disorder." Now, after spending time in a forensic psychiatry hospital unit, Rose is stable and leading a relatively normal life.

"I live on my own ... I've got my own job, I have my own autonomy again," he said.

Finding someone not criminally responsible, or "NCR," is a way for the courts to acknowledge that, although a person has committed a crime, they have a mental illness or developmental delay that prevented them from understanding that their actions were wrong at the time.

The NCR ruling is an opportunity for people with serious mental health issues to get psychiatric help in a hospital instead of being warehoused in a jail or prison where, experts say, they are far less likely to get adequate care or be rehabilitated.

But lawyers and advocates argue that a broad definition of "criminal responsibility," and lingering misconceptions that NCR is a "get out of jail free" card, are keeping the ruling out of reach for many people who deserve it.

"The threshold to be found to be criminally responsible is very low," Sen. Kim Pate told the Star.

"It's very difficult (to be found NCR) ... even if everybody who deals with the individual says 'How on earth did this person end up in jail?' because they are so clearly dealing with significant mental health issues," added Pate, who from 1992 to 2016 was executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, an advocacy group for women in the justice system.

Read more: People with mental illness too often landing in prison instead of hospitals, experts say