Future Kamloops Mental Health Court … With Apps?

Becca Dickson

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.

7 thoughts on “Future Kamloops Mental Health Court … With Apps?

  1. It was so great to have Michelle Stanford talk to our class about the mental health court plans for Kamloops. I love that their really can be an app for everything and WHY NOT?! If making an app like you described for the mental health court can help just one person, what is the harm in making it available? I think this goes for almost every part of our justice system.

  2. Great article! The app could provide helpful information on the mental health court, the possible outcomes and helpful contacts if confusion occurs. It could include a process/tracking map like the ones you see on package deliveries, that could inform the user of how far along before a result occurs.

  3. I really love the idea of automating the screening process for mental health court! It seems like a no-brainer that could save time and money to administer the service. I am wondering too if it might also be beneficial to offer these services via video link. They may be conducting virtual hearings right now due to covid, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t continue doing so in the future, especially for a mental health court. People who are suffering from mental illness and are interacting with the criminal justice system due to it may not always be able to travel to court. If they are in a place where they are receiving care or rely on a strict routine for wellness and stability, traveling to court could disrupt their recovery/treatment, which likely is not the goal of mental health court. I wonder if they will offer this as an option for individuals who would need to travel from surrounding areas to attend or that would be detrimentally impacted in someway by appearing in person. Excited to see future developments of this court in Kamloops!

  4. I found that so interesting that in the first 4 years of the Dartmouth Wellness Court, almost 1/3 of candidates referred were deemed eligible to participate. What that says to me is that doctors, lawyers and other professionals who were using this new resource, had a quite a good understanding of the type of candidate who would actually be eligible. That seems to confirm there was absolutely a need and people were trying to redirect people through this new avenue.

    I think I first heard about the Mental Health Court Kamloops is trying to implement last year at DR week. I was floored because I’d never heard of anything like it and excited that would even be something BC is trying to implement. Knowing many people with mental health, and many who have been through the court system, people do get lost in the system. Having a place where there are additional resources, and a stronger understanding of mental health issues so individuals are dealt with properly is so important. The timing in Kamloops might be perfect. With COVID-19 having changed how legal services are being delivered and forcing innovation might mean the 50 days that the individuals waited in Nova Scotia in those first 4 years, is only 20 days here. Hopefully the program can be set up initially to streamline some of those processes.

  5. I love the idea of making this kind of screening more accessible, efficient, and therefore more attractive as a prototype for courts across the country to use.

    One of the biggest issues in our justice system is the repeat offenders that are simply caught within this system that doesn’t recognize rehabilitation as a viable option. Something like this could do a lot of good for a lot of people, and I seriously hope that this streamlined approach can lead somewhere!

  6. I think the numbers for the Dartmouth Wellness Court speak for themselves – 232 out of 687 is wild. An app to expedite the process of eligibility seems like a great way to fine-tune a program that is already seeing results. I love the idea of mental health courts spreading across the country, it seems evident that there’s a real need for them and anything to make them more efficient is worth the time to develop!

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