Specialist mental health court to be created

Specialist mental health court to be created

By Liz Lockhart

A newly-created mental health court in Manitoba is to be set up to deal with mentally ill people who are accused of non-violent crimes.

Mordentimes.com reported that the special court system is designed to deal with offenders whose mental illness is at the root of their criminal behaviour.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan said that crimes that could fit within the court’s scope include shoplifting or causing disturbance.  He noted that offences with accusations of violence will go through the conventional justice system.

Swan said ‘It’s intended to deal with those who’ve had repeated interactions with the law for what we may call more minor offences, but which create an impact on communities and neighbourhoods, and certainly create difficulties for the offender.’

Whether or not a case fits into the mental health court stream of the conventional justice system will be decided by a team that includes Crown attorneys, defence lawyers and health professionals.

The judge who will run the court, Judge John Guy, said that the legal side will rely on the advice of the mental health experts to explain the nature of the offender’s illness.

‘We’re all going to put our heads together and come p with what’s best for this particular person and adjust the program to this particular person and what they need in light of the criminal charges they are facing and in light of the mental illness,’ he said.

Modelled after Manitoba’s drug court, the mental health court has been in the pipeline for more than four years.  The drug court (also run by Guy) offers addicts convicted of minor offences treatment instead of conventional sentencing.

More than two dozen U.S. states have mental health courts and there are also such courts in Ontario and New Brunswick already.  The court in Manitoba will develop a system to uniquely fit the province’s needs.

Dr Stanley Yaren, a forensic psychiatrist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said that there are estimates that about 30% of people behind bars in Manitoba could be suffering from a mental illness.

It is believed by Yaren that the program will help stop some people with mental illness from re-offending down the road.

‘I think that there is a true prevention aspect to this, that these individuals, with their cycle of offending that is often tied to a mental disorder,’ he said.

The mental health court will start hearing cases next winter, it is expected.

Let’s hope that this type of court system will cut the number of mentally ill prisoners in jail and that it helps the offenders to get help and suitable treatment for their various mental health disorders. 

Relevant links

Mental illness not cause of violent crime

10 year wait for therapy condemed

Mental ward 'a disaster zone', inquiry was told

Three-year-olds to be tested for mental health problems

Mental health awareness week 2011 - sleep matters

Could beheading have been avoid 

Your rating: None Average: 10 (1 vote)