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This article was published 7/6/2011 (3027 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The province is creating a special court for people with mental illnesses who commit non-violent crimes.
The mental-health court will begin hearing cases in Winnipeg this winter, Justice Minister Andrew Swan said Tuesday.
"By diverting people with mental illness from jails into treatment, we will reduce reoffence rates," he said.
The mental-health court will operate similarly to the Winnipeg drug-treatment court, a "problem-solving court" established a few years ago that attempts to break the cycle of drug use, criminal behaviour and jail for drug-addicted offenders, Swan said.
The NDP government has talked about establishing a mental-health court for at least seven years. Such courts are already well-established in Ontario and British Columbia.
Provincial court Judge John Guy, who has presided over the drug-treatment court, will be in charge of getting the mental-health court off the ground.
He will be assisted by a small team, including a psychiatrist and community health worker, that will do assessments and develop service and treatment plans. The province will provide $600,000 a year to fund it.
"We're all going to put our heads together, the legal and the mental health (personnel), to come up with what's best for (a) particular person," Guy said Tuesday.
Professionals in the mental-health field have long decried the current system, in which people with mental illnesses have come repeatedly before the courts simply because they've lacked treatment.
It's estimated that 30 per cent of those who are incarcerated have significant mental health issues.
Nicole Chammartin, executive director of the Winnipeg region of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said they have been calling for such a court for years.
"Being incarcerated without proper treatment greatly increases the chances of reincarceration at a later date," she said.
What's more, many people who finally do receive treatment after years of dealing with the court system find their road to employment blocked by a criminal record, she said. That stain could be avoided in many cases through a mental health court.
Crown attorneys will decide who should be diverted into the new court on the advice of mental-health professionals and in consultation with defence lawyers. Police officers and health staff at the Winnipeg Remand Centre may also flag people who should be diverted to the new court.
Stanley Yaren, a forensic scientist at Health Sciences Centre, said in many cases, people diverted into treatment will be making a more onerous commitment than those who go through the normal court system. But the results will be better for both themselves and society, he said.
"I think the potential for abuse is really very limited," he said in reply to media questions at the announcement.
A depression sufferer who has had run-ins with the justice system said he believes the new court will be a great help for people such as himself.
"It would benefit a person in a situation like I'm in," he said.
Jeremy, who preferred that his last name not be used, said his mental illness, combined with a physical disability and bouts of homelessness, created special problems exacerbated by the traditional court system.
Focus on treatment
Why have a mental-health court?
To treat people with mental illnesses rather than simply putting them behind bars. The court would deal with cases in which people are charged with relatively minor, non-violent offences.
What are some examples?
A very aggressive panhandler who causes grief for people in front of a store or at a bus stop. Someone who causes a disturbance by screaming obscenities in public. A person who starts throwing beer bottles in a bar because he thinks somebody is attacking him.
Who makes the call?
A Crown attorney will play gatekeeper, deciding which cases are diverted to such a court. Arresting police officers, Winnipeg Remand Centre staff and defence counsel may also alert authorities of candidates.
What happens then?
The court works hand-in-hand with mental-health professionals and counsellors to help offenders deal with their problems. A special team, with $600,000 a year in new funding, will help direct the process. The team will include a psychiatrist, a community mental-health worker and a handful of others.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.