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National Inventory of Mental Health and Substance Use Services and Supports for People Transitioning Out of the Criminal Justice System: Final Report

Background: Transitions from the criminal justice system

Criminal justice involvement can include a number of phases, such as being stopped by police, arrested, charged, detained, convicted, sentenced, incarcerated, paroled, or otherwise placed under the jurisdiction of the criminal courts. After involvement, individuals who transition from the criminal justice system and back into the community (often referred to in the literature as reintegration*) confront many challenges. People who are being released from incarceration, in particular, often encounter difficulties related to housing, income and employment, reunion with family or other supports, social isolation, and access to health and social services. Broad structural barriers to a successful return to the community include restrictive housing, public, and employment policies, discrimination by service providers, and social stigma. These barriers contribute to a known cycle of rearrest and reincarceration, also referred to as the “revolving door” of the criminal justice system.


People living with a mental illness and/or mental health concern are overrepresented in the Canadian criminal justice system, and many who are involved in the system also live with co-occurring substance use concerns. While the evidence is mixed, studies show that people living with a mental illness who are released from correctional settings generally do not have significantly higher rates of recidivism compared to others who are released. However, for those experiencing mental health and/or substance use concerns, transitioning to the community can be highly challenging given their need for specialized supports and/or treatment interventions.

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