New Brunswick is set to reintroduce a mental health docket to the provincial court in Saint John this November — four years since the last case was heard by a judge.
Participation in the new program is voluntary and is open to those who suffer from a mental illness, plead guilty to a criminal offence and meet certain criteria.
The goal of the program is to allow for better outcomes for those with mental illness. The presiding judge and a mental health team will establish a treatment plan, allowing convicted individuals to obtain medical care rather than be incarcerated.
The original program was first established as a pilot project in 2000 by Judge Alfred Brien and became permanent in 2004. It was suspended in 2013 when Brien partially retired.
“The model yielded impressive results in the last decade and it has been imitated in other jurisdictions,” said Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Saint John Human Development Council.
“Its revival is an acknowledgment that treatment is more effective than jail.”
Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry said that 85 per cent of cases that were heard in the previous pilot program did not result in a re-offence.
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The decision was announced on Monday by Premier Brian Gallant.
“Your government is focused on improving services to persons battling mental illness,” Gallant said.
“The return of a mental health docket in the provincial court in Saint John will provide those with mental illness who plead guilty to a criminal offence a path out of the criminal justice system and into community treatment.”
Gallant says that other regions in the province will be able to benefit from similar programs.
“We’re very interested in scaling up to other regions across the province,” said Gallant.
According to a press release, participants in the mental health docket who refuse to follow the treatment plan or who continue to commit crimes may be reintroduced to the regular court process.
The new model is based an existing program in Nova Scotia.