Volume 96, Issue 16
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

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Mental patients criminalized

By Kelly Marcella
Gazette Staff

The criminalization of citizens with serious mental illness has recently come under fire by London officials.

Trends in police contact with persons suffering from serious mental illness in London were addressed in a study by the Consortium for Applied Research and Evaluation in Mental Health, a part of Western's Ontario's Population and Community Health Unit. The study was conducted by researchers at the London Police Service, the Lawson Health Research Institute and Western.

According to Kathleen Hartford, a scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute and associate professor in the faculties of medicine and dentistry and health sciences at Western, the purpose of the study was to examine changes in police dealings with people who suffer from serious mental illnesses.

The study examined the last four years because the onset of government cutbacks resulted in less facilities being available for mental health patients, Hartford said.

"We found that with the definite population [of people having serious mental illness], those charged and convicted were more likely to be fined and spend time in custody in 2000 than in 1998," said Lisa Heslop of the London Police Service.

Heslop noted the cost for London Police to deal with citizens with serious mental illness varied between $2.5 million and $4 million depending on the classification of illness. The amount of time police spend dealing with them has increased 111 per cent, Heslop said.

"This research confirms what police intuitively knew. [It] confirms that we are not appropriately addressing the needs of this weaker segment of society," said London Police chief Brian Collins.

"People are falling through the cracks. We are criminalizing something that should be treated as a health problem," Collins added. "It means that other services, normally provided by London Police, are not being fully addressed."

According to Kristine Diaz, co-chair for the LMHA, the LMHA is working out partnerships with various London organizations, such as London Police, London Health Science Centre and Family Services London, in order to improve treatment.

"We really support what the police chief and the researchers are saying – not to criminalize patients," said Diehl Elkin, executive director of Western Ontario Therapeutic Community Hostel, adding their organization can no longer step up efforts to help without increased funding.


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