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HomeWhat We DoMental Health and the Justice System

Mental Health and the Justice System

What is the issue?

Mental health problems and illnesses among persons involved in the criminal justice system remain substantially higher than in the general population — a discrepancy that is also increasing.

Persons who are justice-involved and living with mental health problems and illnesses face a variety of challenges that can worsen their mental health. Incarceration experiences and stressors can intensify existing conditions, create new ones, and hinder recovery and healing. Among these stressors are

  • being isolated from their community supports and services upon incarceration
  • facing inadequate or unavailable mental health services in corrections facilities (e.g., fragmented, not culturally safe or trauma informed)
  • having to rely on segregation and pharmacology as the primary means of intervention
  • grappling with stigma, discrimination, and systematic exclusion from employment, housing, and health services after their discharge.

What are we doing?

We are helping to further a broad range of initiatives to support the mental health needs of persons involved in the criminal justice system. These initiatives seek to

  • mobilize key stakeholders and engage with persons who have lived experience
  • disseminate best practices
  • promote evidence-based research
  • identify strategies to improve services and supports that address their mental health needs.

As part of this work, we offer a growing range of resources:

The Mental Health Needs of Justice-Involved Persons

A rapid scoping review, developed in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, that looks into existing research and policies on the mental health needs of persons who are justice involved. It seeks to guide the development of future research and policy by highlighting what is known and where gaps remain.

  • Key Messages
    A series of infographics depicting key messages from The Mental Health Needs of Justice-Involved Persons, designed to give policy makers and researchers a glimpse into the full rapid scoping review.

National Inventory of Mental Health and Substance Use Services and Supports for People Transitioning out of the Criminal Justice System

An inventory of community-based mental health and substance use services and supports throughout Canada for people transitioning from the criminal justice system into the community.

A description of the inventory’s development, including a brief overview of transitions from the criminal justice system, a summary of specific promising practices, and a synopsis of how key themes align with identified needs in the community.

Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System: “What We Heard”

A report summarizing key themes from the rapid scoping review, key informant interviews, and a national survey. It summarizes the main challenges and opportunities on improving mental health for persons who are justice involved and highlights the specific mental health needs of priority populations.

TEMPO: Police Interactions

A national framework for police training and education, created in partnership with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. It is designed to help police officers recognize mental health problems and illnesses and respond appropriately and empathically.

The National Trajectory Project

An MHCC-sponsored program that traced the path of persons declared not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder through mental health and criminal justice systems in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. Its objectives included exploring the profiles of those accused, the operation of criminal justice provisions, and the mental health and criminal outcomes.

To connect with the team leading this work, email us at justice@mentalhealthcommission.ca.

Related Initiatives
The Working Mind First Responders

Reducing stigma and increasing resiliency in first responders

Mental Health First Aid for Police

A course to help improve police interactions where mental health may be an issue


The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) created a number of resources to help reduce the over-representation of people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system. Click on the links below for more information.

In this 60-minute webinar, we discuss the mental health impacts of the pandemic on incarcerated populations and correctional settings, as well as recommendations on ways to move forward, to improve...

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...

The provincial Mental Health and Addictions branch works in partnership with many community services, agencies, and programs to provide a client-focused continuum of care to meet the unique needs of...

There are five Regional Health Authorities (RHA) inBritish Columbia, in addition to the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) and the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). Each RHA provides mental health...

This inventory was created to establish a living directory of community-based mental health and substance use services and supports throughout Canada for people who are transitioning from the criminal justice...

The provincial Addictions and Mental Health Branch plans and funds mental health policies and programs in New Brunswick. Therapeutic services are provided by Réseau de Santé Vitalité and Horizon Health...

The Nova Scotia Health Authority provides health services to Nova Scotians and some specialized services to other Maritimers and Atlantic Canadians. Personnel from the province’s forensic system note that individuals...

The provincial Department of Health and Community Services plays a lead role in supporting the four Regional Health Authorities and other mandated health and community service agencies that serve Newfoundlanders...

The Government of Nunavut, through the Department of Health, offers community-based outpatient services supporting recovery from substance use and trauma. Within Nunavut there are community-based programs and organizations that offer...