This blog is brought to you by a member of the DFTOK team, Jesse Bickerton. Jesse is the Project Manager and coordinates things from start to finish. Today Jesse discusses the criminalization of mental illness.

By: Jesse Bickerton

Children with mental health challenges face a number of additional day-to-day issues that other children may not have to typically face. One topic that comes up often during the weekly “Different from the Other Kids” podcast is how often these challenging children end up dealing with the justice system some point in their lives. Over the past few years, this trend has been termed “criminalizing mental illness” and it creates a whole list of issues for the person entering the criminal justice system due to a mental health emergency.

Unhealthy Prison Populations

In a report from The College of Family Physicians of Canada reviewing the Health Status of Prisoners in Canada, it is specifically noted, “Most persons in correctional facilities have mental disorders as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” existing in over 4 of 5 youth currently in detention. When lined up with the statistic that 30% of youth are affected with mental health challenges, there is a large number of youth that get admitted into the criminal justice system.

Why are so many of these individuals with mental health challenges entering the criminal justice system? According to a report from the John Howard Society of Ontario titled, Unlocking Change: Decriminalizing Mental Health Issues in Ontario, “the criminal justice system is more involved with persons with mental health issues than ever before.” The report notes that once an individual enters the criminal justice system, “they do not fare well” and that “practices rooted in punishment and control often only exacerbate the challenges facing people with mental health issues.” The report is fairly extensive, discussing different recommendations to the Province of Ontario surrounding improving mental health through policies and early treatment programs (to name a few).

There are no easy answers when dealing with mental health challenges. Each day can present a different obstacle. We have to change the way we respond to mental health emergencies. There is a lot that needs to be done to ensure that everyone is treated fairly, no matter his or her mental health. As I’ve stated before in a previous blog, stigma is still a major factor surrounding mental health and mental health awareness. This stigma can be further increased with the addition of a criminal record. These factors contribute to the cycle of mental health challenges and incarceration, effectively jailing some of these people for life. This is not the solution.

To check out all of the interviews from our latest season of the Different from the Other Kids podcast, check out the Player Page for links to listen for free! Different from the Other Kids: Law & Disorder Edition features interviews between Angela Tsounis and different parents and professionals who care for or help children with mental health challenges. Check out the Season Three Guide for information about each episode’s guest.

Thanks for reading! Check out Jesse’s information here or check out the DFTOK blog for more posts from the DFTOK team. Don’t forget to check out the Different from the Other Kids podcast, available on iTunes or by clicking here!


Health Status of prisoners in Canada from the official journal of The College of Family Physicians of Canada

Unlocking Change: Decriminalizing Mental Health Issues in Ontario from the John Howard Society of Ontario