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New Mental Health Commission of Canada resources seek to improve mental health and substance use outcomes of justice-involved persons

In advance of World Day for International Justice, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is releasing new research and recommendations that highlight the need for improved support for justice-involved people across Canada.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the need to address the service gaps and risks facing people living with mental illness and problematic substance use in Canadian correctional facilities,” said Dr. Mary Bartram, director of policy for the MHCC.

In Canada, between 65 and 70 per cent of people who are incarcerated are living with problematic substance use. Furthermore, 73 per cent of federally incarcerated men and 79 per cent of federally incarcerated women live with one or more current mental health problems or illnesses.

“Through this research, we set out to determine how best to support justice-involved persons, not only while incarcerated, but also as they transition into society,” said Michel Rodrigue, MHCC’s president and CEO.

The COVID-19, mental health, and substance use in correctional settings policy brief provides decision-makers with guidance and recommendations on how to improve supports for justice-involved people.

Highlights from the findings, rooted in evidence and international best practices, include a decarceration strategy, ensuring that medical isolation is not set up in the same way as solitary confinement, improved data collection, and increased funding to transitional community services and housing support.

In the coming weeks, the MHCC will be releasing a comprehensive inventory of the mental health and substance use services that are currently available in Canada for people transitioning from the criminal justice system. Organized by province and territory, and available in both official languages, this interactive inventory will be regularly revised to ensure its programs and services are up to date.

Quick Facts

  • Rates of serious mental illness, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders, are anywhere from two to three times higher for incarcerated persons in comparison to the community
  • 83 per cent of federally incarcerated First Nations, Inuit and Métis (FNIM) men and 95 per cent of federally incarcerated FNIM women met the criteria for one or more current mental disorders
  • Rates of attempted suicide and suicidal ideation range from 3 to 11 times higher than that of the community, with FNIM persons disproportionately affected

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The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change, an organization designed to recommend improvements to the mental health system on a national level. We are not directly involved in individual cases of advocacy, outreach, service delivery or local supports.