Mental Health Court Judge "Encouraged"

The Honourable Pamela Williams, Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia and the presiding Judge in the Mental Health Court, says she is encouraged by the findings in the report. “It shows”, she says, “that we are on the right track but need to adjust what kind of help, and how much, we offer our Program participants.”

The Evaluation Study and Report

Dr. Campbell’s study examined the mental health recovery, criminal risk and the risk of re-offending of 22 people who participated in the Mental Health Court Program between 2012 and 2014. It also compared their outcomes with what happened to an equal number of people who were referred to the Mental Health Court but, for a number of reasons, were dealt with in the traditional Courts, instead. These two groups were then matched on key characteristics to make them equivalent in demographic, re-offending risk, and mental health status for comparison purposes.


Dr. Mary Ann Campbell

Centre For Criminal Justice Studies
University of New Brunswick - Saint John Campus


Information was gathered about each individual’s situation before and after he or she was referred to the Court. The study looked at mental health recovery, recidivism risk, and criminal behaviour. The rate of re-offending was also examined and compared for the people participating in the Mental Health Court Program and the people who were dealt with in the traditional Courts.

Thirty-one percent of the people who participated in the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court Program (30.8%) were charged with a new crime in the 12 months after they were referred to the Court. But, says the report, “…this rate was not statistically different from the re-offending rate (31.5%) of the comparison group, the people who were dealt with by the traditional Courts.

Although also not statistically significant due to the small sample size, the study found that participants who successfully completed the MHC Program “ … demonstrate the longest passage of time before re-offending …” compared to those who did not complete the Program and those in the traditional Courts.

The MHC Program participants who responded least well, and who were most likely to be prematurely discharged form the Program, were those who came into the Court with more significant needs and a higher risk of re-offending.

Chief Judge Williams says the study and subsequent report show why it is important to gather and track statistics while continuously monitoring and evaluating the work of innovative initiatives such as the Mental Health Court. “Dr. Campbell’s independent evaluation”, says Chief Williams, “provides us with an impartial and expert view of what we are doing well, what we need to do better, and what else we need to do.”


Dr. Mary Ann Campbell's Recommendations

In her report, Dr. Campbell also makes six recommendations. The first is “To continue investing in the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court …..” The fourth recommendation calls on the Court to put more effort into helping participants with their education, employment, and recreational activities, even helping them make better choices about the people with whom they choose to associate. “These needs…” says the report, “…are significant risk factors for recidivism …”
One of the report’s other recommendations says the Court has to do a better job at matching the needs of the participants with the appropriate services offered in the community.

Another one suggests screening people for criminal behavior risk, in addition to assessing their mental health, to help better define whether they qualify, how closely they should be supervised, and what level of intervention they will need.

Yet another recommendation says the Court should either find a way to more effectively supervise and meet the needs of high risk offenders or add “high risk of re-offending” to the list of reasons for not accepting people into the Program.

And finally, the report recommends the Court continue its in-house data tracking so similar evaluation studies can be done in the future.

“Perhaps the most enlightening of Dr. Campbell’s findings”, says Chief Williams, is the necessity to help our Program participant’s with more than rehabilitation and services; that their work, schooling, recreation, and the friends they choose also determine whether or not they re-offend. Despite the Court’s limited resources, we will have to find a way to help our participants with those issues as well.”


How the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court Works

Some Qualifying Criteria

A connection to the HRM

A recognized mental disorder

Disorder related to the crime

He/she must take responsibility

Voluntary participation

Any risk to the community is manageable

Crown attorney must consent

In sharp contrast with the adversarial approach of traditional criminal courts, which often leads to jail, the Mental Health Court is a collaboration between justice professionals and mental health and addictions clinicians.

Together, they work with the accused to help them connect to services, develop rehabilitation plans, and improve their well-being and living situations in order to decrease their likelihood of re-offending. At the same time, they continuously assess the potential risk the accused may pose the public. Along the way, the Court monitors their progress and can, if necessary, order them back to the regular criminal courts.

People facing criminal charges must meet stringent criteria in order to be referred to, and then to qualify to appear before, the Mental Health Court. In order to continue in the Court's program, and eventually graduate, a participant must follow the rehabilitation program developed for him/her by the Mental Health Court Team of professionals in the fields of justice and mental health & addictions. Along the way, the Court monitors the participant's progress and can, if necessary, return him/her to the regular courts.

To learn more about the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court, as well as its Court Monitored Drug Treatment Program, CLICK HERE >>