People with mental illness are over-represented in the provincial and federal justice system.
Justice system agency staff (attorneys, police and others) are a potentially significant point of contact between people with mental illness and treatment opportunities that would keep them out of the justice system.
Additional and more frequent training and educational sessions to provide police, Crowns and corrections workers with knowledge and information about mental health problems and illnesses, how to respond and services available in the area.
Establish a mental health court in Lambton County and ensure consistency by appointing one Crown and one Judge to maintain continuity and allow for better, more meaningful case outcomes. Mental health support workers from various agencies could attend every Mental Health Court to provide input to the judge and lawyers, as well as meet with the accused. Mental Health Courts allow for less court appearances by the accused and more meaningful appearances and resolutions that incorporate direct input from relevant agencies.
Improve communication between the Crown’s Offices and the Ontario Review Board with respect to cases that are found to be not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial.
“There is a stigma that still exists regarding mental health with the police. Police education could include explaining that outreach, engagement and therapeutic rapport are key to the longevity of working with clients. Otherwise, clients continue to rotate through the mental health system and only reactivity occurs.”
– Adult mental health care worker
There are a number of initiatives that currently aim to take into account the mental health needs of people who are currently involved with the criminal justice system. These are outlined below:
Direct Accountability Program (DAP)
Details: A DAP worker attends remand/first appearance court to offer information on rehabilitative services in the community and work with accused to create rehabilitative programming relevant to their needs, which includes counselling in the area of mental health. If counselling and/or another program or task is successfully completed, the charge(s) is withdrawn.
Purpose: Address underlying issues and accountability while avoiding a conviction.
Limitations: The offender has to be engaged in and committed to the process, which is difficult to achieve in some cases. If the offender is not, this results in a discontinuance of DAP and a return to the standard court process, which inevitably delays the eventual completion of the case.
Mental Health Diversion
Details: A Mental Health Court Worker from the Canadian Mental Health Association develops a treatment plan with the accused. If the plan is approved by the Crown, the criminal charges are stayed, halting further legal process. If the treatment plan is successfully completed, the charges are not reinstated. Between May 1st, 2017 and March 28, 2018, CMHA provided diversion and court support to 116 clients.
Purpose: Offer an incentive to the accused to follow through with a mental health treatment plan.
Limitations: The Mental Health Court Worker is not able to attend court on a daily basis and cannot take on every case due to resource limitations, seriousness of charges, or lack of cooperation of the accused. While other jurisdictions have a dedicated Mental Health Court, Lambton County does not.
Youth psychological reports and counselling
Details: St. Clair Child and Youth Services complete the reports and offer relevant counselling/treatment services for young persons and their families.
Purpose: Provide the court with vital information to assist with sentencing, rehabilitation, and the overall success of the young person going forward in the community.
Limitations: The young person has to be engaged in the process, which can be difficult to achieve in certain cases.
Details: Conferences usually occur in the courtroom and involve all agencies and people involved in the young person’s life who have something to contribute with respect to the person’s wellbeing and future.
Purpose: Provide information to craft a sentence that is comprehensive and meaningful for the young person.
Limitations: There aren’t always representatives from the mental health sector at the conferences. There could be a more efficient way to contact these parties and arrange the conferences.
Indigenous Persons Court/Gladue Court
Culturally appropriate representation
Details: These courts regularly have service providers in attendance, including coordinators and facilitators of various culturally-appropriate programming related to mental health and other relevant areas.
Purpose: Input from these providers is used to better understand and appreciate the community and culture of the accused persons, as well as both their progress and limitations thus far. This information is then incorporated into the person’s sentence or resolution.
Limitations: The court itself can be difficult for some accused persons to access, given its distance from their homes. The purposes of this court would also be best served in a conference-style room, as opposed to a formal courtroom.
Ontario Review Board (ORB)
Hearings and Dispositions
Details: The Ontario Review Board annually reviews the status of every person who has been found to be not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial for criminal offences due to a mental health disorder.
Purpose: The ORB makes ongoing decisions about those under its authority regarding the appropriate level of security, hospitalization requirements, community privileges, supervision, and support.
Limitations: The flow of information and communication between Crown’s Offices and the Ontario Review Board is important. Work could be done to streamline this process, which can be complex at times.