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The Mental Health Needs of Justice-Involved Persons: A Rapid Scoping Review of the Literature


This report reviews recent literature on the mental health needs of justice-involved people in Canada. It is a rapid, conceptual scoping review of both academic and policy sources on the topic, intended to identify priority areas for current and forthcoming discussions. For many critical observers today, jails and prisons have become places of confinement where people with mental health problems and illnesses can be hidden from view. Researchers and policy makers agree that people who live with mental health problems and illnesses are overrepresented in criminal justice systems, in Canada and globally.
We examined the literature through an equity and human rights lens, starting from the position that justice-involved persons, including those convicted of crimes, retain their right to adequate health care, including mental health care, and that identity informs the impact of one’s contact with the criminal justice system — both as an individual and as members of groups experiencing structural disadvantage and oppression. Throughout, we draw out two overarching themes: the tension between trying to assure security while providing care, and the overlap between mental health recovery and criminogenic rehabilitation

  1. Of those involved with the Canadian criminal justice system, who experiences mental health problems and mental illnesses, and of what kind?
  2. What are the experiences of justice-involved individuals living with mental health problems and/or mental illnesses? What barriers do they experience when accessing mental health care? How do these experiences vary when we account for multiple axes of identity?
  3. What evidence-based practices and promising policies, standards, program frameworks, and services best support the mental health of individuals who interact with the criminal justice system?
  4. What are the key concepts and values that should inform the design and delivery of programs, policies, and services for justice-involved individuals with mental health problems and/or mental illnesses? How are these, and can these be, tailored to priority populations?
  5. What are the strengths and limitations of the existing evidence, and what opportunities exist for future research, performance measurement, and program monitoring?

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