Kamloops may soon host B.C.'s first designated mental health court | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops may soon host B.C.'s first designated mental health court

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February 26, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Kamloops may become the first city in B.C. with a designated mental health court system.

After two grants, more than 60 interviews, and a nationwide study of specialized courts, a Kamloops lawyer and law professor are ready to submit a proposal for a law-reforming system in the River City.

Ruby Dhand, a professor in Thompson River’s University’s Faculty of Law, and Michelle Stanford, who has worked as a lawyer for more than 25 years, kept seeing clients with mental health issues revolving through the criminal court system and concluded there must be a better way of treating them.

“People with mental health issues and addictions have been disproportionately represented within our criminal justice system,” Dhand says. ”If you look at the experiences of people entering the criminal justice system... it’s really an unfair reality.”

Dhand believes that the current court system isn’t working for those who have mental health and addiction issues. She says the two often go hand-in-hand and require a specialized treatment plan to break the cycle of crime.

“We’re really hoping this can be a collaborative type of community court, so not just focused on people with mental health issues but also including people with mental health issues and addictions, because there’s such an overlap, and the services are the same,” Dhand says.

In December of 2018, the pair received a grant from the Law Foundation of B.C., which allowed them one year to conduct interviews with stakeholders and service providers around the province, with a focus on the Kamloops area. In July 2019, they received more funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which has allowed them to do a nationwide-study on the 22 designated mental health courts across the country.

“I’m analyzing these courts and looking at what has worked for them, and really what has not worked for them, what can we learn from their experiences and what are those recommendations around law reform that various practitioners and people experiencing that system have recommended to us,” Dhand says.

She says they have been looking closely at the Saskatoon Mental Health Strategy Court, which Dhand says has seen success since its launch. The pair are also looking at two B.C. courts, The Victoria Integrated Court and Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court, which Dhand says don’t have mental health court designations, but work by a similar model for those with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues.

Dhand says connections with organizations that offer housing, treatment options and rehabilitation programs will be the primary focus of the proposed mental health court system. Once a week, the proposed mental health court would welcome in clients from Kamloops and the nearby surrounding areas facing minor offences.

“We would have a specialized judge and a specialized group of lawyers who have specific training in mental health, working with people with mental health issues and addictions,” Dhand says. “It would benefit the profession itself because there’s such a lack of a real true understanding of how to work with clients and have empathy towards and understand the system that is not working for them.”

Dhand says the pair will submit a proposal from their Law Foundation of B.C. funded study to a specialized court committee. She says if everything goes according to plan, a pilot project could be launched by next year.

“We’re getting the proposal in as soon as possible, within the next month or so, and we're hoping to hear back in the next four or five months,” Dhand says. “Our aim is to have at least a pilot project implemented by the next year.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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