Understanding Not Criminally Responsible (NCR)

Written by Dr. Karen De Freitas on . Posted in Forensic Mental Health

Dating back to ancient Babylonian times, there has been recognition that persons should not be punished for criminal acts that they committed while severely mentally impaired. The details have changed over time, but the general concept remained.

Today, the law in Canada is derived from English law, and in particular the M’Naghten case. Under the current Criminal Code of Canada, a person is found not criminally responsible (NCR) for a criminal act if they suffered from a mental disorder that prevented them from understanding what they were doing, or alternatively, prevented them from knowing that what they were doing was wrong by the standards of society. 

The criteria for being found NCR are clear and stringent. People who are ultimately found NCR are often severely mentally ill. Only a small minority of persons in the system have committed serious offenses such as murder. Many are found NCR for relatively minor offenses such as mischief. They often spend far longer in hospital than they would ever have spent in the correctional system if convicted of the same offenses.

Once a person is found NCR, they fall under the jurisdiction of their provincial review board, and are thereafter referred to as “accused persons.” In our province, the Ontario Review Board (ORB) reviews each case annually, and decide on what freedoms the NCR accused can have over the course of the upcoming year. The ORB is bound to take four factors into consideration when making their decisions: the safety of the public, the mental condition of the accused person, their reintegration into society, and any other needs that they may have. The ORB is mandated to make the least restrictive dispositions consistent with protecting public safety.

Accused persons in Ontario are cared for by one of several forensic psychiatric facilities in the province. Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) is one such facility. For many of these persons, this is the first time they have had access to comprehensive, long term psychiatric care tailored to their individual needs and they generally leave the system in a far more stable state than when they entered.

The impact of treatment is evident in the fact recidivism rates for people treated in the forensic mental health care system stand between 7.5 and 10.4 per cent. Recidivism rates for those treated in the criminal justice system are between 41 and 44 per cent.

The level of care received and the outcomes achieved through the forensic system are beneficial to both the individual looking to move forward in life and the community interested in economic responsibility and maintaining public safety.