Manitoba Mental Health Court to be Established

In a press release the Manitoba provincial government announced the formation of the Manitoba Mental Health Court. The focus of the mental-health court will be on adults with mental-health issues who are accused of less serious, non-violent crimes, says Justice Minister Andrew Swan.

Health-care Supports to Help Keep Accused from Reoffending: Swan, Oswald

The province is investing more than $600,000 to establish a special court to work with accused whose mental-health issues are the likely cause of their criminal behaviour and is expanding mental‑health services to better support these individuals, Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Health Minister Theresa Oswald and provincial court Chief Judge Ken Champagne announced today.

“By diverting people with mental illness from jails into treatment, we will reduce reoffence rates,” said Swan. “This innovative new court will help individuals with mental illness get the help they need and also help to increase the safety of our communities.”

The mental-health court will be similar to the Winnipeg drug-treatment court, an existing problem‑solving court that attempts to break the cycle of drug use, criminal behaviour and jail for drug-addicted offenders. The mental-health court will focus on adults with mental-health issues who are accused of less-serious crimes, said Swan.

“We know that there are accused persons before the court who are challenged by mental illness and that their mental illness is most often the cause for their offending behaviour,” said Champagne. “I am confident that the supports and assistance provided by a mental-health court will enable these Manitobans to get back on track with their lives and help to ensure that they do not become re‑involved in the criminal justice system in the future.”

Swan said a multi-disciplinary team, which will be operated by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, will provide supports and assessment of mental-health status, development of service and treatment plans, and support and information for family members. He said development of a service/treatment plan could include:

* community support including basic needs, counselling and day programs;
* focused intensive case-management by an assertive community-treatment team (as a transition to ongoing community supports);
* addictions counselling;
* employment and educational supports;
* admission to hospital for intensive assessment and stabilization;
* community service work;
* an apology to the victim or others affected; and
* involvement of family members.

“Research tells us that prolonged contact with the justice system by people with mental illness can have negative effects that lead to repeated involvement with the law,” said Oswald. “This mental‑health court is a problem-solving court that will address the underlying problems that can contribute to criminal behaviour and will result in better outcomes including a better quality of life for individuals experiencing mental-health problems and illnesses.”

She said cross-training for those working in or with the mental-health court will include:

* education related to mental illnesses and co-occurring substance-use disorders for judges, prosecutors, defence counsel, police and corrections staff; and
* training about court and justice processes for the community mental-health team, the psychiatrist attached to the mental-health court and other related service providers.

It is anticipated the court will begin hearing cases in winter of 2011.

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