Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He's a graduate, not a convict

New court's first success story

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Courtrooms aren't a place where applause and cheers from the gallery are looked upon kindly.

But that protocol was overruled Thursday for Shane Barratt given what he's accomplished over the last 18 months.

Barratt, 44, became the first-ever graduate of the Winnipeg Mental Health Court, an innovative justice measure aimed at diverting people with mental illnesses who clash with the law away from the standard court process and into a tailored treatment regime.

Despite living an entirely crime-free life, Barratt found himself arrested three separate times in fall 2011 and accused of offences such as causing a disturbance and mischief. He even spent a night locked inside the Remand Centre -- something he calls a real "eye-opener."

Turns out, the sudden onset of the behaviour was directly tied to an undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Barratt and his lawyer, Phillipe Richer, worked up a plan that saw him become the mental health court's first-ever applicant.

He was one of just two clients when it began hearing cases in May 2012.

Since then, the court has taken on 35 clients, with just three being discharged from the program without finishing.

Barratt was put on a mental-health treatment plan and in contact with community-based services. He followed it to the letter.

Clients of the "problem-solving" court are kept accountable through regular court appearances, where Associate Chief provincial court Judge John Guy is given updates on their cases.

In front of the others, Guy openly discusses with them the challenges they face and notes their achievements.

Accountability for slip-ups such as missed appointments is enforced by the Crown. Sanctions such as community-service work or extra bail conditions can be imposed.

"I had no checks and balances before -- so without proper medication I was oscillating," Barratt said following court Thursday.

Life today is "dramatically better," he said. "It puts my fate in my own hands."

Also relieving, he said, is how he won't live with the burden of a criminal record. The Crown stayed the charges he faced Thursday.

"This gentleman is not a criminal. He is a person whose illness got away from him," senior Crown prosecutor Susan Helenchilde told Guy.

Barratt said he feels the same way about the other 30-odd people who are currently working their way through the program.

"A lot of these people aren't criminals, they're just ill," he said. "They just haven't received the proper supports or advice."

Court clients, members of Barratt's treatment team and observers including Chief Judge Ken Champagne clapped enthusiastically as he was given a framed certificate of completion.

Some came up to him after to personally congratulate him and shake his hand.

"I've enjoyed being along for the ride but you've done all the work," Guy told Barratt. "You followed the plan... you did exactly what the team came up with and you did it well," said the judge. "We're confident that the tools have been given to you."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 B1

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