Blue Line

News
Insanity defence hardly a handy way to escape justice

Mar 19 2015

TORONTO - The notion that cold-blooded killers and violent offenders take advantage feign psychiatric illness to win a verdict of not criminally responsible and avoid punishment is a myth, a new study finds.

Only a tiny fraction - less than 0.2 per cent of criminal cases in a given year - will receive a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, the study published Thursday by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry concludes.

“(Such) cases can conjure thoughts of violent offenders faking a mental illness to avoid prison time, shortened hospital stays with early release into the community accompanied by fears the individual will reoffend,’’ the article states.


March 19, 2015
By Corrie Sloot

Mar 19 2015

TORONTO – The notion that cold-blooded killers and violent offenders take advantage feign psychiatric illness to win a verdict of not criminally responsible and avoid punishment is a myth, a new study finds.

Only a tiny fraction – less than 0.2 per cent of criminal cases in a given year – will receive a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, the study published Thursday by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry concludes.

“(Such) cases can conjure thoughts of violent offenders faking a mental illness to avoid prison time, shortened hospital stays with early release into the community accompanied by fears the individual will reoffend,’’ the article states.

Advertisment

However, data from the national trajectory project, which tracked 1,800 not-criminally responsible men and woman from May 2000 to April 2005 in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, paints a much different picture.

About half of the cases involve minor assaults, property offences or other non-violent crimes, the study finds.

Repeat offences – especially involving severe violence – are extremely rare and overall recidivism is lower than that of the general prison population. In fact, people who had committed severe violent index offences were less likely to reoffend than those who had committed less severe offences.

The study found only 13 cases of severe violent reoffences.

Overall, according to the study, 17 per cent of NCR cases reoffended after three years of follow-up, roughly half the rate estimated for the general prison population. Reoffence rates are much higher, about 70 per cent, for mentally ill inmates in the general prison population.

The study also found about three in four NCR patients had been in hospital at least once for a mental-health condition – most commonly for a psychotic disorder compounded by substance abuse.

“This suggests that violence risk-assessment training and interventions to reduce further mental-health deterioration and criminal offending are a priority in civil psychiatric services,’’ says study co-author, Anne Crocker, of McGill University.

In other findings:
About three in four were on government assistance at the time of the offence;
One in 10 was homeless;
About half the NCR population had no prior major criminal convictions;
Most victims are family members rather than headline-grabbing crimes against strangers.

“This emphasizes the importance of supporting family members…as both potential helpers and potential victims,’’ the study states.

The findings also appear at odds with Bill C-14, a new federal government law that transferred responsibility for violent NCR offenders from review boards to the courts.

The ongoing national trajectory project also involves researchers from Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre and the University of British Columbia.