Statistics reveal interesting data on Not Criminally Responsible cases in Canada

There continues to be a lot of discussion, often in the media and around high profile cases, about an individual being found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) for a crime committed.

When someone commits a crime and has been identified as having a mental illness, they will likely entire into the forensic mental health system.  This system consists of specialty designated mental health facilities, like Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) that have been determined by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to have the expertise required to assess, treat and supervise persons struggling with a mental disorder who have become involved in the criminal justice system. Any such person may be ordered by the courts to be placed at such a facility for an assessment of criminal responsibility or to determine if they are fit to stand trial.

It is the belief of the Canadian justice system that the person committing the crime must have the capacity to understand their actions and to appreciate that their behaviour was wrong in order to be found guilty. The verdict of NCR means that the person is exempt from criminal responsibility because they were suffering from a mental disorder that prevented them from understanding the nature of their actions or knowing that their actions were wrong. A psychiatrist recommends this finding to the court, but it is the judge or jury who makes the final decision.
It is often felt that there are a large number of people who fit this category and who may be getting away with their crimes. However the NCR verdict is not a loophole or a get out of jail free card. If a person experiencing mental health issues commits an illegal act, they are not guaranteed to receive an NCR verdict. Those who are eventually found NCR, must first undergo a thorough psychiatric assessment and must meet a stringent set of criteria before they are found NCR.

The statistics suggest that the NCR verdict represents a small proportion of adult criminal cases. According to the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS)*, data from the fiscal years 2005/2006 through to 2011/2012 was examined. During those years, according to ICCS, there were a total of 1,908 adult cases in the reporting jurisdictions that received an NCR verdict, with a range of 252 to 292 cases per year.  These cases represented less than 1 percent of adult criminal court cases processed annually, and this percentage remained relatively stable over the period studied.

At Ontario Shores, we have extensive experience providing mental health care for individuals who have a mental illness and have come in contact with the law. We see it as our responsibility to provide specialized assessment and treatment services to those in our care, and to manage their risk effectively while preparing them to eventually re-enter the community. It often requires months to years before our patients are rehabilitated to the point where they have acquired the necessary skills to manage their illness and live in the community successfully. The safety of the public, staff and our patients is always considered in the recovery process. It is also our approach at Ontario Shores to provide care and support for all individuals and their loved ones affected by mental illness, no matter how they entered the mental health system.