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Letter to the editor
March 19, 2009
Criminal Justice Responses to Mental Health
To The Vancouver Sun
Thank you Peter McKnight for a well-reasoned and intelligent column on criminal justice responses to mental illness (Solving Problems ‘when everything is too late’ March 14), and for clarifying that being found “not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder” usually means longer incarceration than a prison sentence.
You point out the real problem–inadequate community services to get people help before ‘everything is too late’. People with mental illness are regularly processed through the criminal justice system, ending up in prison; up to 40% of prison inmates have mental disorders. Mentally ill inmates tend to get longer sentences, are more victimized, and receive more discipline than other inmates - often because the corrections system can’t meet their mental health needs, as in the tragic situation of Ashley Smith.
Investment in community-based mental health services provides better safeguards for all of us, including those with mental disorders, and reduces costs and backlogs in a criminal justice system that is ineffective at addressing mental health issues. A single system for mental health and addictions (assisting people in need of mental health services, wherever they are) would help prevent these tragic events where people fall through the cracks.
Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division