SAINT JOHN (GNB) – A mental health docket will be reintroduced to the provincial court in Saint John in early November, four years after the last case of the former mental health court program was heard.

“Your government is focused on improving services to persons battling mental illness,” said Premier Brian Gallant. “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.”

Participation in the diversionary program is voluntary for people who suffer from a mental illness, plead guilty to a criminal offence and meet certain criteria. The program allows a provincial court judge and a mental health team to establish a treatment plan that must be followed in order to remain in the program. The treatment plan may include requirements to access various mental health services. The program improves access to various types of treatment through education and referrals. Participants who refuse to follow their treatment plan or who continue to commit crimes may be streamed back to the regular court process for sentencing.

The former program was first established in Saint John as a pilot project in 2000 by Judge Alfred Brien and became permanent in 2004. The program was suspended in 2013 when Brien became a supernumerary judge.

“The success of the program under Judge Brien cannot be overstated, as 85 per cent of the cases he heard did not result in a re-offence,” said Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry. “The departments of Justice and Public Safety and Health have been working diligently with the Office of the Attorney General, the Legal Aid Services Commission and Horizon Health Network to establish a sustainable model for a program that is important to many families.”

“A mental health docket can result in better outcomes for justice involved individuals who have mental health issues by diverting them to treatment instead of incarceration where appropriate,” said Health Minister Benoît Bourque. “The Department of Health will continue to collaborate with its partners to achieve the goals of the mental health docket.”

“The Saint John Human Development Council, along with the local Community Council on Homelessness, welcomes the return of the Mental Health Court to the region,ˮ said Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Saint John Human Development Council. “The model yielded impressive results in the last decade and it has been imitated in other jurisdictions. Its revival is an acknowledgement that treatment is more effective than jail. Community organizations and front line service providers look forward to working with the Mental Health Court and using this progressive model to address the intersection of mental health and the criminal justice system.ˮ

The new model of service delivery for the mental health docket is based on past practices, as well as an existing model in Nova Scotia. It has also been informed by research at the University of New Brunswick on best practices for addictions and mental health courts.