Advocates are calling for the return of New Brunswick’s mental health court in Saint John.
The facility was a leader for more than a decade in taking a new approach in mental health cases, but closed three years ago after its judge retired.
Mary Ann Campbell studied the Saint John court and others in North America at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. She says simply jailing those with mental health issues is not a solution.
“You have no positive impact on reduced criminal behavior as a result of incarceration,” said Campbell. “You just further complicate their mental health issues because they’re more likely to be targeted and victimized in prison environments.”
Defence lawyer Martin Fineberg says the mental health court was making a difference.
“Shouldn’t we be addressing the cause of the behaviors, and not the consequences?” said Fineberg. “That’s what mental health court did. It went right to the cause, or tried to. And for the most part, I thought it worked.”
Mental health court began in Saint John in a somewhat informal basis in 2000, and gradually became a regular feature of court services. It brought together the judge, lawyers, probation officers, social workers and mental health professionals, along with the accused, in a courtroom setting.
A spokesman for the Justice Department says meetings are taking place behind the scenes, and mental health court could be back in the future.
Legal veteran David Lutz says mental health court is needed, but it can get complicated.
“You’re talking at least seven people for every single case in mental health court, and not only that, there’s like three or four appearances and most of the appearances are two or three hours. So it’s a very complicated thing,” said Lultz.
Given the present focus on cost-cutting in government, Lutz does not expect to see mental health court return any time soon.
Nova Scotia has had a mental health court since 2009. It has helped more than 200 people over those years. The Nova Scotia service was patterned after the successful court in Saint John.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron