New report aims to improve mental health court diversion for racialized populations

(Toronto, May 31, 2019) –

There’s a greater need to collect race-based data in the justice system and use it to help racialized individuals access mental heath court diversion and other support services, according to a new report led by Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division.

Racialized Populations and Mental Health Court Diversion was developed by the Community of Interest (COI) for Racialized Populations and Mental Health and Addictions. The report explores the experiences of racialized individuals in need of mental health court support services and options to divert from the criminal justice system in Toronto.

In the report, the COI determined that:

  • Race-based data should be collected throughout the criminal justice system to better facilitate access to mental health court supports for racialized individuals.
  • More culturally-competent and trauma-informed services within the justice system, including specialized training for police officers, are needed.
  • Every member of the justice system, including judges, police officers and mental health court support workers should be responsible for promoting mental health court diversion.
  • Culturally-specific system navigators are needed to share information and resources with justice-involved individuals.
  • Mental health court locations and hours of operation should be expanded across the province.

“As someone who was diverted to a mental health court, I received treatment and supports through the court process that helped me get back on my feet,” said Brandy Skinner, a former client of Fred Victor’s mental health court support services.

“Mental health courts aren’t a get out of jail free card, but they provide an opportunity to ensure that rehabilitation and appropriate supports are initiated while someone is appearing before the courts, which can directly reduce incarceration, harsh penalties and criminal convictions.”

“Studies show racialized immigrant and Indigenous populations have a higher prevalence of mental distress and risk of suicide than average Canadians,” said Uppala Chandrasekera, CMHA Ontario’s public policy director. “The traditional criminal justice system isn’t designed to support mental health issues, so it’s imperative that racialized individuals are introduced to the mental health court system whenever appropriate so proper supports are in place to reduce recidivism, improve the clients’ health and ease strain on the criminal justice system.”

“There’s an overrepresentation of racialized populations involved in the criminal justice system, and feedback we received indicated that these individuals often aren’t aware that mental health courts are an option for them,” said Deqa Farah, senior manager, Mental Health & Substance Use Housing Program at Fred Victor. “If the justice system as a whole makes a concerted effort to proactively collect race-based data and divert racialized populations to mental health courts, it will have a substantial, positive effect.”

The report was based on findings through focus groups with justice-involved racialized individuals and service providers, as well as a think tank day that brought together over 150 participants, including persons with lived experience, mental health and justice service providers, and government representatives.
Led by CMHA Ontario, this community of interest is supported by the Evidence Exchange Network, part of the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In addition to CMHA Ontario and CAMH, the COI includes representation from Across Boundaries, Addictions & Mental Health Ontario, CMHA Toronto, Fred Victor, the Provincial Human Services & Justice Coordinating Committee, Ontario Peer Development Initiative, Sudbury & District Health Unit, Wellesley Institute and Working For Change.

Fast facts:

  • The sparse data that’s available shows that racialized populations, in particular Indigenous and Black populations, are overrepresented in both arrest and correctional institution statistics.
  • Indigenous individuals are twice as likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous individuals, while Indigenous youth are five to six times more likely to die by suicide than the national average.
  • Black immigrants and South Asian males are more likely to develop moderate to high mental distress than any other immigrant ethnicity.

About Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario is a not-for-profit, charitable organization funded by the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. We work to improve the lives of all Ontarians through leadership, collaboration and continual pursuit of excellence in community-based mental health and addictions services. Our vision is a society that embraces and invests in the mental health of all people. We are a trusted advisor to government, contributing to health systems development through policy formulation and recommendations that promote positive mental health. Our 30 local CMHA branches, together with community-based mental health and addictions service providers across the province, serve approximately 500,000 Ontarians each year.

For more information, contact:
Justin Dickie
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
T: 416-977-5580, ext. 4175
E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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