THE OVERREPRESENTATION OF PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS in the Canadian criminal justice system and in Canada’s prisons is a growing problem. In the past two decades, rehabilitation-oriented mental health programs in criminal courts have developed in large Canadian centres and elsewhere as one answer to this challenge. These programs are intended to encourage therapeutic goals as alternatives to criminal penalties for people with mental illness in conflict with the law while generally maintaining or improving community safety. Meanwhile, in remote Arctic communities in Nunavut, mental health programs in criminal courts do not exist and the capacity of these courts to deal with persons with mental illness is constrained by scarce resources and unique cultural considerations. These problems contribute to accused people with mental illness in Arctic communities, many of them Inuit, being swept up in the criminal justice system for crimes that have mental illness at their root.
My postdoctoral research work follows on the heels of my PHD study examining how the underlying rehabilitative principles that guide mental health programs in criminal courts in larger Canadian communities and elsewhere—principles derived from the theoretical concept of “problem-solving courts” that look to the underlying causes of crime—can be used in the absence of the resources usually associated with these courts to achieve their rehabilitative objectives in remote, mainly Inuit communities in the Arctic. This University of Alberta-based study straddles the traditional boundaries between law and health sciences to combine contemporary scholarship regarding mental illness rehabilitation and legal theories of therapeutic justice. Also vital is the incorporation of Inuit concepts of “mental wellness,” resilience and wrongdoing in the context of northern health and criminal justice.