Mental Disorder, Substance Use and Criminal Justice Contact


In May 2003, the Minister of State for Mental Health brought together representatives from Ministry of Health Services (MOHS), Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), Ministry of Attorney General (MAG) and the Ministry for Public Safety and Solicitor General (MPSSG) to address the prevalence of people with mental and substance use disorders who are involved in the justice system. The result was a cross-ministry commitment to develop a report about mentally disordered offenders in the justice system in order to identify the high priority and long-term issues for this population and provide recommendations to address these concerns.

The many challenges associated with mental health, substance use and the justice system are recognized world wide, and a number of reforms are underway in different jurisdictions. Invariably, these reforms reflect a combination of local needs, resources, legislation and a consideration of available evidence. A critical first step in the process of reform is careful review of available information. In British Columbia, the provincial government has formed an interministerial steering committee, with research support provided through the University of British Columbia. The UBC team, in collaboration with other experts in Canada and abroad, collected and analysed information in the following formats:

Literature Review: A scholarly review of the international literature. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive review available of the professional literature pertaining to mental disorders, substance use disorders and criminal justice contact.

Survey of Other Jurisdictions: A survey highlighting areas of need and opportunities for reform in jurisdictions across Canada and elsewhere.

BC Data Analysis: A report examining the administrative data for addressing mental illness and substance use in relation to the justice system in BC. These analyses are based on an unprecedented linkage of administrative information concerning corrections and health services for the population. In 1999/2000, there were 52,000 individuals (43,859 adults and 8,234 youth) involved with the provincial corrections system. Almost 15,000 (29 percent) of the total cohort were classified as mentally disordered offenders. The prevalence rate is nearly twice the rate for the general British Columbia population.

Julian M. Somers,
James R. P. Ogloff,
A. Murray Ferguson,
Michael R. Davis