Access to treatment keeps mentally ill offender out of jail

For more than 40 years, Arthur was in and out of jail but everything turned around for him once he had access to treatment for his mental illnesses.

Depression, anxiety and voyeurism landed Calgary man in trouble many times

Depression, anxiety and voyeurism landed Calgary man in trouble many times. 2:28

For more than 40 years, Arthur was in and out of jail. His crimes included misdemeanours like trespassing and peeping.

"I am very sorry about the stuff that I've done," says the 70-year-old, who CBC News has agreed to not share his identity. "I look down at myself in a lot of ways."

Arthur is diagnosed with depression, anxiety and voyeurism. For the last 10 years though he hasn't had any run-ins with the law.

Arthur, who is mentally ill, gets help from a psychologist after years of petty criminal troubles. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

One factor that's kept Arthur out of trouble is the thought of spending any more time in remand.

"I can't go back to jail because there's just no hope for me if I do."

Another key to keeping him from re-offending is his psychologist Patrick Baillie.

Baillie has been working with Arthur for years and agrees that jails and prisons are the wrong place for people with mental illnesses.

"Jail guards didn't get into the business so they could deal with mental health issues," says Baillie.

"That's not what our custodial system was designed to do, but the jails and penitentiaries have become the largest providers of mental health services in the country without having adequate resources."

Offenders with mental illness often held

Many of Baillie's patients are appointed through the courts. He says mentally ill people aren't more likely to offend but they are more likely to be charged — just one reason the system is over-represented by people suffering from mental illnesses.

"Because of their mental health problems, they may not be the best candidate for being released on bail," says Baillie.

"If the resources aren't there in the community the judge feels that in order to protect society the individual has to be in custody. So whether it's being charged, being in remand or being sentenced, they are more likely to end up on the negative side of the equation."

Baillie says he would like to see a larger chunk of the health-care budget allotted to mental health programs so more people like Arthur can get help.

"People with mental health problems who come into contact with the justice system often do so at a particular low point," Baillie said. 

"The mental health problem may be persistent but the criminal offending is often an isolated occurrence or a reaction to stress, a particular set of circumstances, and so when we give people the tools for how to handle those circumstances their risk of re-offence goes way down."

As for Arthur, he's just grateful for the help he's been given and he keeps his goals simple.

"I want to be treated more human."