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What is this research about?

Persons with serious mental illness (SMI) are more likely than those without SMI to be charged with a criminal offense. They are often incarcerated for minor offenses such as crimes of poverty, offenses related to substance use or minor offenses against judicial orders. These repeated brief incarcerations disrupt access to community services such as housing, income support or access to psychiatric care. A portion of this group also experience rapid and frequent incarcerations, leading to a disproportionate amount of overall service use and cost. Understanding the characteristics of those with SMI and frequent reincarcerations can be used to tailor mental health services to respond more effectively.

What you need to know

High-frequency mental health service users account for a disproportionately high number of incarcerations. This study looks at the characteristics of this population. Researchers found that the most important predictors of reincarceration among those with mental illness are a diagnosis of schizophrenia/bipolar affective disorder (BPAD), homelessness, and crack cocaine or methamphetamine use. The most common offenses among this group are theft, robbery or breach of probation. Targeting resources more effectively and tailoring services for this population could lower the impact on criminal justice and mental health services.

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This Research Snapshot was based on the article, “Patterns and Predictors of Reincarceration Among Prisoners With Serious Mental Illness: A Cohort Study,” which was published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2020. Available at: Accessed January 25, 2021.

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