Few issues stir public interest, or generate as much controversy, as the verdict of Not Criminally Responsible on Account of Mental Disorder (NCR). Even though very few living with mental illness ever come into conflict with the law, three prominent cases recently prompted changes to Canada’s criminal justice system. This retrospective, mixed methods study analyzed coverage of these cases from four national news media services between 2008 and 2015, and how they were portrayed. Six major themes emerged: feelings of victimization; tough-on-crime attitudes; perceived injustice; trial by public opinion; a hierarchy of human rights; and negative stereotypes. Although two-thirds of stories conveyed a neutral tone, there were limited perspectives with lived experience, and no significant improvements in reporting trends over time. The findings support research that show the media provide overwhelmingly dramatic and distorted narratives of mental illness that emphasize dangerousness, unpredictability, and criminality. Recommendations for the news media to re-frame representations of NCR accused persons include practicing equality, providing context, collaborating with healthcare and legal experts, and focusing on rehabilitation instead of vengeance.
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Thesis advisor: Verdun-Jones, Simon
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