The Mental Health and Criminal Justice Project evolved from the documentary film Crisis Call. The film explores issues experienced by people with mental illness when in crisis, particularly their dealings with the police, judicial and correctional systems.
The documentary generated the interest of local stakeholders to work further on these issues. A Community Working Group was formed to explore the needs and concerns of local people with mental illness, and of those who work with them, or who provide peer support. The Crisis Call Community Development Project, also known as the Thunder Bay Mental Health – Criminal Justice Project (MH-CJP) was the Thunder Bay community’s action follow-up to the launch of Crisis Call, part of which was filmed in the community.
For the 15 month period, September 2004 through December 2006, Thunder Bay hosted an innovative community capacity building project driven by the needs and experiences of psychiatric consumer/survivors who had been in conflict with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
The project was a partnership between Sky Works Charitable Foundation and the Canadian Mental Health Association, Thunder Bay Branch. It was a one-year project funded by the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) – Community Mobilization Program (CMP).
Sky Works’ goal was to bring together stakeholders who could identify and address the concerns of people from a variety of sectors, including psychiatric consumer/survivors, police officers, court workers, mental health care workers, corrections, probation and parole workers.
The goals of the initiative were to:
The MH-CJP brought together representatives from nearly 40 Thunder Bay agencies and service organizations and individuals from the community to seek solutions to some of the problems generated by mental health crises. The project was built on the principle that identification of the problematic issues and the implementation of effective responses should be guided by the people most affected by those issues - people with direct experience with the police and the criminal justice system - psychiatric consumer/survivors.
Individual survivors became active players in implementing alternative justice protocols and procedures. Their experiences of living in poverty, being vilified by the media, and facing discrimination at all levels of society, including the justice system itself, gave them a status equal to that of police, correctional officers, service providers, and legal/justice system professionals for purposes of this change process. This equality gave survivor-participants a strong sense of ownership of a process that was conducive to healing at an individual level, and in the local “survivor community”.