REGINA – A unique court focused on keeping people with mental health problems and cognitive issues out of jail is celebrating success of its first two years.
“When they’re released they’re on their own suddenly, without necessarily having housing or being on someone’s case load, or on medication, and they don’t fair very well,” Judge Clifford Toth said.
Toth founded the court in 2013, and has been presiding over it.
Dr. Michelle Stewart from the University of Regina released the results of a study on the court she co-authored with Brittany Mario on Thursday.
The Mental Health Disposition Cort sits twice a month, and it’s modified to meet the cognitive abilities of the people standing trial.
“There’s a disproportionate amount of people with serious mental illness and cognitive disabilities, like fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), being housed in our justice system,” Stewart said.
So far 79 cases have been brought before the court, and 36 have been completed. Thirty-one of those cases resulted in a person receiving the social services they need, and only five went to jail.
“We have to ask questions about the way that we run things, and how we want to spend our money,” Stewart said.
“I don’t want to spend my money on putting people in jail. I want to put money toward supporting people in the community and thinking very carefully about the people that live in Regina and the needs that they have, and those needs are not satisfied in the justice system most of the time.”
However, resources have been an issue with the court and fixing this makes up much of the recommendations Stewart outlines in her report.
“What we need in this court are dedicated resources, a dedicated clinical capacity for diagnosis and dedicated legal aide,” she explained.
“That would help this court dramatically.”
As a judge, Toth said this court is valuable because often they aren’t aware of health issues in their normal proceedings.
“You don’t usually stand up and say “hey I have a mental illness” in court, or if you’re mentally handicapped you can’t articulate that,” he said.
He added that often before being assigned to mental health court, people just seemed delinquent because they often miss court.
“You can probably go through the motions, but you don’t really explain why you didn’t come to court four times because you don’t know what day Tuesday is.”