Proposed changes to the criminal code would make it more difficult for mentally ill offenders who are found not criminally responsible to be released from custody.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced Thursday that he will introduce a new bill early next year that would make public safety the central factor when determining when to release an offender, but did not give specific details.

"Our government is listening to victims, as well as the provinces and territories, who are telling us that the safety of the public should be the paramount consideration in the decision-making process involving mentally disordered accused persons," Nicholson said in a statement.

The justice system exempts individuals from criminal responsibility if, at the time they committed an offence, they were suffering from a mental illness and didn’t understand the consequences of their actions. Those found not criminally responsible are typically detained in mental health institutions, not prisons.

Forensic psychiatrist Ag Ahmed of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group told News Channel on Thursday that he hopes whatever changes proposed by the Conservative government takes into account the need to rehabilitate and reintegrate those with mental illness into society.

“It’s not just medication, it’s a psycho-social intervention,” said Ahmed. “You want to send the patient into the community, you want them to attend other programs. Should there be a restriction, it would make it very difficult to get this individual reintegrated into the community.”

Ahmed also pointed out that keeping those with metal illnesses detained for longer periods of time would strain the already limited resources available to these individuals.

“Statistics indicate the rate of re-offence among patients under the review board is low compared to the criminal justice system or individuals who go through correctional system,” he said. “Which shows that the system is working, people are not released unless it’s been determined to not constitute a significant risk to the public.”