There are more than 20 designated mental health courts in Canada, none of which are in BC. Mental health courts are typically available to people who have been charged with a crime and who have mental health issues that relate to the criminal behaviour. TRU Law Professor Ruby Dhand and Kamloops lawyer Michelle Stanford are working on a proposal for a mental health court in Kamloops.
Mental health courts intend to divert people with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system and towards treatment and various supports in the community. To be sustainable, the court must be inexpensive to run, and have a measurable impact on the individual/community that it serves.
The future Kamloops mental health court could benefit from an app which streamlined its admission process. Below, I use the Nova Scotia mental health court’s admission criteria and statistics to outline why.
The Nova Scotia mental health court (now called the Dartmouth Wellness Court) has been around for 10 years. In order for someone to participate in the court, they must be referred and deemed elibile to participate. The eligibility criteria include:
- Being over 18 years old
- Living in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM)
- Having a substantial connection to the HRM (for example – attending school in the area)
- Having a mental disorder that is a recognized serious and persistent mental illness and is substantially connected to the offence.
- Crown attorney consent
In the first four years of the program 687 individuals were referred to the mental health court, and 232 of them were deemed eligible to participate. Individuals who were referred waited an average of 50.58 days before hearing whether or not they were admitted to the program.
An app which asked the user basic eligibility questions could help streamline the process. It could ask plain language questions to determine preliminary eligibility (like “How old are you?” “Do you live in the HRM?” “Do you have a mental health disorder that is clearly related to your charge?”) The app could then create a report to be emailed to the next person who needs to see it to make further eligibility determinations.
In this unprecedented era of forced justice system reform, ideas like this that would have seemed really “outside the box” before might now be pretty much “inside the box” and have a realistic chance of being implemented, if designed well.