Find­ing hope in the jus­tice sys­tem

In Com­mu­nity Treat­ment Court, peo­ple with men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues get help in­stead of jail time. Should Hamil­ton adopt the same model as Hal­ton? Su­san Clair­mont ex­plores the is­sue

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SU­SAN CLAIR­MONT

Most courts of­fer jus­tice. This one also of­fers hope.

COURT­ROOM 13 looks like any other in Burling­ton’s crim­i­nal court­house. But through that door, on al­ter­nate Fri­days, ex­ists a court like no other in Hal­ton.

The Crown and de­fence lawyers cheer­fully greet of­fend­ers by name. Social work­ers min­gle with pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers. Friends and fam­ily of the ac­cused look pleased.

And when Jus­tice Stephen Brown en­ters, no­body stands.

Else­where this would be dis­re­spect­ful. Here, it in­di­cates Brown’s deep re­spect for the ac­cused. He wants to make them com­fort­able. He cares. Wel­come to Com­mu­nity Treat­ment Court (CTC), where those with men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues come to get well and stay out of jail.

“I don’t want to just put peo­ple away in jail, un­less I have to, to pro­tect the pub­lic,” says Brown, who has led this spe­cial­ized court since it be­gan five years ago. It is per­sonal for him. He has fam­ily with men­tal health chal­lenges. “We see ab­so­lute trans­for­ma­tions of peo­ple. But it’s not easy on them … They have to split open their lives.”

“One hun­dred per cent, we ab­so­lutely need men­tal health court.” JAIME STEPHEN­SON PRES­I­DENT, HAMIL­TON CRIM­I­NAL LAWYERS AS­SO­CI­A­TION “The fam­ily tries all sorts of dif­fer­ent things. Ev­ery­thing breaks down over time. Fam­i­lies burn out. They give up.” JOE CHROLAVICIUS DE­FENCE LAWYER “But with all these sup­ports in place, what prob­lem are we try­ing to ad­dress?” TODD NOR­MAN HAMIL­TON CROWN AT­TOR­NEY There is vir­tu­ally no em­pir­i­cal data re­gard­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of MHCs. The few stud­ies are small and largely Amer­i­can.

ONE

MAN was ar­rested for bang­ing on the wrong door late at night, ter­ri­fy­ing the woman who lived there. He spent a year in Brown’s court get­ting treat­ment.

“He’s the nicest guy,” the judge says. “I wish that woman could see his hard work. His re­morse.”

THOUGH

WE HAVE a much­praised yet un­funded Drug Treat­ment Court (DTC) — which by virtue of duel di­ag­noses sees many of­fend­ers with men­tal health is­sues — there is no CTC like Hal­ton has, nor a sep­a­rate Men­tal Health Court (MHC) in Hamil­ton. There are 23 Men­tal Health Courts in On­tario.

As so­ci­ety talks more openly about men­tal health and the le­gal com­mu­nity grap­ples with in­creased of­fend­ers with men­tal health chal­lenges, the lo­cal buzz about the mer­its of a spe­cial­ized court has reached a crescendo. Does Hamil­ton need a MHC? While all ma­jor stake­hold­ers are will­ing to have the dis­cus­sion, some whole­heart­edly be­lieve a MHC is over­due here, while oth­ers say it would take hard ev­i­dence and a govern­ment com­mit­ment of re­sources to be con­vinced.

Each MHC is tai­lored to its com­mu­nity. Some, like Hal­ton, are com­bined with DTC and a guilty plea is manda­tory. Toronto has psy­chi­a­trists right in the court­room to do as­sess­ments. Many rely heav­ily on Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion (CMHA) work­ers. Some with­draw charges upon graduation.

In each ju­ris­dic­tion the ob­jec­tive is the same: to give non-vi­o­lent of­fend­ers an op­por­tu­nity to treat the men­tal ill­ness that led to their of­fence rather than serve time in jail.

Gen­er­ally, of­fend­ers are el­i­gi­ble if they have been charged with non-vi­o­lent crimes that don’t in­volve sex­ual as­sault or im­paired driv­ing.

Vi­o­lent of­fend­ers or those found Not Crim­i­nally Re­spon­si­ble (NCR) are not ad­mit­ted into MHC. Low-level charges such as sim­ple as­sault, mis­chief and theft are fre­quently seen. With reg­u­lar court, men­tally ill of­fend­ers are apt to serve short jail sen­tences with­out much, if any, treat­ment. Once out, they of­ten don’t have hous­ing, med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion or fam­ily sup­port. That puts them in the pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion of breach­ing court or­ders or of re­of­fend­ing. So the cy­cle be­gins again. The aim of MHC is to stop that re­volv­ing door.

“One hun­dred per cent, we ab­so­lutely need men­tal health court,” says Jaime Stephen­son, pres­i­dent of the Hamil­ton Crim­i­nal Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion. Peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness are “preva­lent” in Hamil­ton’s courts.

Ev­ery day in the Hamil­ton court­house there are ac­cused show­ing signs of men­tal ill­ness. They of­ten

That trend be­gan in the late 1950s with de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the men­tally ill. Now, fam­i­lies some­times re­sort to hav­ing loved ones ar­rested in the hope of get­ting them help.

rant loudly and in­co­her­ently. Some are brought in wear­ing hockey hel­mets for their own pro­tec­tion.

Stephen­son would like to see our DTC ex­pand into a CTC to in­clude men­tal health cases. The in­fra­struc­ture is al­ready in place for the spe­cial­ized court, and so would — in the­ory — make it eas­ier to get off the ground.

“It’s about us­ing re­sources we have for the DTC to full ca­pac­ity.” But also, many clients over­lap. “A lot of men­tal health is di­rectly re­lated to drug use,” Stephen­son says. Drugs are used by clients “to try to deal with their men­tal health is­sues” or heavy drug users “end up with drug-in­duced psy­chosis.”

Some lawyers don’t want to take on men­tally ill clients. Their cases are com­pli­cated and time con­sum­ing. Le­gal aid ac­counts for that with ex­tra fund­ing for men­tal health cases, but a lawyer needs spe­cial train­ing to qual­ify for that fund­ing.

Find­ing fund­ing for a Hamil­ton MHC will be a chal­lenge, Stephen­son ad­mits.

“Spe­cial­ized courts re­quire spe­cial­ized re­sources,” she says. “And we’re al­ready short on judges.”

HALF

OF DE­FENCE lawyer Joe Chrolavicius’s clients have men­tal health is­sues. He is a cham­pion for their cases, and is con­sid­ered one of the best by his col­leagues.

He cred­its his keen in­ter­est to his older sis­ter Kristina. “She was a bit of a lost soul.” When Kristina was 18, he drove her to North Bay for nurs­ing school. Soon, he had to bring her back.

Kristina was di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia. She was a trou­bled but gen­tle soul, who lived ev­ery day think­ing her death was im­mi­nent.

“She made it to the age of 53,” says Chrolavicius. “She even­tu­ally de­cided she wanted to die and she stopped eat­ing. Had she been a healthy girl, I may not be in this line of work.”

Years ago, when CMHA first put work­ers in Hamil­ton’s court­house, Chrolavicius stepped up to rep­re­sent peo­ple they iden­ti­fied as hav­ing spe­cial needs. He ed­u­cated him­self on the Le­gal Aid Act, NCR cases, the Men­tal Health Act and Com­mu­nity Treat­ment Or­ders.

Many of his clients don’t have sup­port from their fam­i­lies.

“The fam­ily tries all sorts of dif­fer­ent things,” he says. “Ev­ery­thing breaks down over time. Fam­i­lies burn out. They give up.” He be­comes their sole ad­vo­cate.

One client was ar­rested while Chrolavicius was on hol­i­day. The man was so up­set his trusted lawyer wasn’t there in court he smashed the glass in the pris­oner’s box.

Chrolavicius says a com­bined MHC and DTC would fit the needs of many of his clients, who he some­times can’t deal with in a mean­ing­ful way after their ar­rest un­til “the drugs are out of their sys­tem and they’ve eaten and slept.”

He does worry that com­bin­ing spe­cial­ized courts could set some clients up for fail­ure if they’re un­able to deal with their ad­dic­tion and men­tal health is­sues at the same time.

That is a con­cern shared by Ruth Greenspan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the John Howard So­ci­ety of Hamil­ton.

“Drug court isn’t for every­body,” she says, while ac­knowl­edg­ing the Hamil­ton DTC has changed many lives for the bet­ter.

Greenspan says most of their clients have some men­tal health is­sue, in­clud­ing ad­dic­tion and fe­tal al­co­hol syn­drome. Her staff says Hamil­ton may have more need for a MHC than Hal­ton, since those with se­vere is­sues usu­ally end up here be­cause it is a big­ger city with more shel­ters.

“Jail doesn’t help from a treat­ment stand­point,” Greenspan says, adding John Howard wants a place at the ta­ble to dis­cuss a MHC for Hamil­ton.

Al­ready there are three CMHA work­ers at the John Sopinka Court­house ev­ery morn­ing in Hamil­ton to pro­vide sup­port to adults in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

Jill Pol­lock, case man­ager of the CMHA’s Men­tal Health Court Sup­port Ser­vices, ex­plains there is a di­ver­sion pro­gram that pro­vides six months of treat­ment for clients ar­rested for low-level non-vi­o­lent and non-do­mes­tic of­fences. If the client suc­cess­fully com­pletes the pro­gram, charges are with­drawn.

Staff acts on re­fer­rals from lawyers or fam­ily. They meet with peo­ple in cus­tody, as­sist with bail plans, of­fer coun­selling ap­point­ments, find space in shel­ters and lodg­ing homes.

In 2016, Men­tal Health Court Sup­port Ser­vices had 767 unique clients, with 29 new clients each month. There are an­other 150 or so re­peat clients each month.

“It can be very over­whelm­ing for these in­di­vid­u­als to nav­i­gate the sys­tem,” says Pol­lock. “There’s a lot of stigma and, for some peo­ple, shame.”

Pol­lock praises Hamil­ton for work it al­ready does in this area, say­ing “in our le­gal com­mu­nity ev­ery­one tries to work col­lab­o­ra­tively … We all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

HAMIL­TON’S CROWN

of­fice is ded­i­cated to the “dif­fer­ent and spe­cific needs” of the men­tally ill, says Crown at­tor­ney Todd Nor­man.

“We make real ef­forts to treat peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness com­pas­sion­ately, with pub­lic safety in mind.”

There are al­ready pro­grams to make that hap­pen, he says, cit­ing po­lice pre-charge di­ver­sion, the CMHA di­ver­sion pro­gram and DTC, which ap­plies “if ad­dic­tion is con­sid­ered a men­tal ill­ness.”

Of Hamil­ton’s 26 Crowns, nine — in­clud­ing Nor­man — have train­ing al­low­ing them to do On­tario Re­view Board hear­ings.

“We should al­ways be look­ing for bet­ter ways to deal with peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness,” says Nor­man. “But with all these sup­ports in place, what prob­lem are we try­ing to ad­dress?”

The same ques­tion is posed by Hamil­ton Po­lice Ser­vice. Front-line of­fi­cers are tasked with deal­ing with peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues due to the so-called “crim­i­nal­iza­tion of men­tal ill­ness.”

That trend be­gan in the late 1950s with de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the men­tally ill. Now, fam­i­lies some­times re­sort to hav­ing loved ones ar­rested in the hope of get­ting them help.

Hamil­ton po­lice are lead­ers in pre-charge di­ver­sion pro­grams that keep the men­tally ill from be­ing ar­rested in the first place. There is the Cri­sis Out­reach and Sup­port Team (which teams up a men­tal health clin­i­cian and plain­clothes of­fi­cer in an un­marked ve­hi­cle), the Mo­bile Cri­sis Rapid Re­sponse Team (men­tal health clin­i­cian and uni­formed of­fi­cer in marked pa­trol ve­hi­cle) and Social Nav­i­ga­tion Pro­gram (para­medic, po­lice of­fi­cer in an EMS truck).

The pro­grams aim to re­duce stigma, ar­rest rates and time at hos­pi­tal, says Supt. Nancy Goodes-Ritchie.

She says po­lice want to be part of a dis­cus­sion on MHC, but “we need to have some kind of fea­si­bil­ity study.”

“Are there gaps that could be filled through men­tal health court?”

There is vir­tu­ally no em­pir­i­cal data re­gard­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of MHCs. The few stud­ies are small and largely Amer­i­can. About 25 per cent of male fed­eral in­mates have an iden­ti­fied men­tal health is­sue, ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice of the Cor­rec­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tor. That dou­bles for women.

Jus­tice Fred Cam­pling, ad­min­is­tra­tive judge for Hamil­ton, calls for a proper study. “I need to be con­vinced that we need a spe­cial­ized court,” he says. “I’m open minded to that, but it hasn’t been demon­strated to me.”

Cam­pling praises DTC, the work CMHA does in the court­house, the var­i­ous po­lice pro­grams and the St. Joseph’s hos­pi­tal foren­sic psy­chi­a­try unit. And he agrees there are many men­tally ill peo­ple in the Hamil­ton crim­i­nal court sys­tem.

“I just haven’t de­cided if we need a spe­cial­ized court or not. I think we do have more re­sources in that area al­ready than most com­mu­ni­ties.”

The other is­sue Cam­pling is all­too aware of is the new prece­dent re­gard­ing trial delays that comes from the R vs. Jor­dan de­ci­sion. Now, pro­vin­cial court cases shouldn’t take longer than 18 months to get to trial and Su­pe­rior Court cases have 30 months.

Those time­lines are putting pres­sure on Hamil­ton judges, al­ready short-handed thanks to the “de-as­sign­ment” of Jus­tice Bernd Za­bel, who wore a Trump “Make Amer­ica Great Again” hat in his court­room.

“We are strug­gling to get peo­ple tried with the Jor­dan di­rec­tive,” says Cam­pling. “We have to fo­cus on core busi­ness. We can’t just al­low spe­cialty courts to pop up willy-nilly. We are not go­ing to have spe­cialty courts un­less they’re ab­so­lutely jus­ti­fied.”

In Hal­ton, Jus­tice Brown agrees there aren’t sta­tis­tics avail­able to show the suc­cess of courts like his.

But there are stories. Some were told last Novem­ber when grad­u­ates came back for a re­union.

“When I first came to treat­ment court, I was shat­tered,” shared a grad­u­ate named Ekta. “This was the low­est point of my life. I was dis­ap­pointed with my­self, guilt-rid­den, con­trolled by fears and anx­i­ety. And no court could pun­ish me more than I pun­ished my­self.”

Now she is well. And stay­ing out of trou­ble. “The next time you may get ar­rested and not nec­es­sar­ily end up in a treat­ment court. And that could dev­as­tate your life,” she said.

“This time, they’re of­fer­ing you help. And hope.”

Jus­tice Stephen Brown, who pre­sides over Hal­ton’s Com­mu­nity Treat­ment Court.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.