What are Wellness Court Programs?
Wellness Court Programs are specialty or problem-solving courts, where a team of professionals helps treat the issues contributing to the individual coming into conflict with the law. These issue may include mental illness, substance abuse, or gambling. Another area in which specialty courts have been established is domestic violence.
Collaboration and creative problem-solving are central to these programs. Unlike the traditional adversarial approach of the regular criminal courts, wellness court programs develop and administer a support plan that is unique to the needs of each individual participant. The court team monitors the individual’s progress while still holding them accountable for their crime and continually assessing their potential risk to public safety.
Wellness Court Program Steering Committee
The Wellness Court Program Steering Committee consists of about two dozen representatives from the Judiciary, justice, health care, and academia, as well as graduates of Wellness Court Programs in Nova Scotia, who provide their lived experiences. The group is tasked with providing advice and recommendations to senior leaders in the justice and health-care systems and helps enable a more coordinated approach when expanding Wellness Court Programs to more communities across Nova Scotia. The steering committee also creates data collection sets and evaluation tools for wellness court programs. The group meets as needed, and meetings are co-chaired by Pamela Williams, Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts, and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Since its inception, the steering committe has developed some useful documents to assist Courts and community groups looking to establish a Wellness Court Program in their community:
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Friday, April 28, 2023
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Dartmouth Wellness Court
The Dartmouth Wellness Court operates out of Courtroom 5 at the Provincial Court, 277 Pleasant St., Dartmouth, N.S. Formerly known as the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court Program, the Dartmouth Wellness Court works with staff from Mental Health and Addictions at the Nova Scotia Health Authority and other government and community organizations to administer the Mental Health Court Program, the Drug Court Program and the Alcohol Court Program.
2019 marks a decade since the original Nova Scotia Mental Health Court Program began. The original program has evolved and grown substantially over the past 10 years.
With that in mind, the court team agreed that the 10th anniversary would be a good opportunity to change the name to the Dartmouth Wellness Court. This new name better reflects the geographic region the programs serve (the Halifax Regional Municipality only). It also helps to destigmatize mental health and substance abuse issues for the individuals involved in these programs, by putting the focus on wellness.
The court team also agreed that the anniversary was a good time to evaluate the programs now offered in Dartmouth, as well as the Wellness Court Programs that have opened up since in Amherst, Post Hawkesbury and Kentville. The court team collaborated with the Dalhouse Faculty of Health's School of Occupational Therapy to do the evaluation, which is ongoing. The preliminary findings of their research are now available.
This first phase of the evaluation focused primarily on qualitative data. The research team spent the last 12 months conducting interviews and focus groups with team members and court program participants, as well as doing a thorough document review of the program files in each location.
Although they did not form part of this evaluation, Nova Scotia also has Wellness Court Programs operating in Wagmatcook First Nation, and the province has created specialty problem-solving courts in Sydney and Halifax to address the needs of people affected by domestic violence. The province is also in the process of establishing Wellness Court Programs in Truro and Bridgewater.
The Mental Health Court Program is not a trial court. Participants accepted into the program work with a team of professionals who help address the issues contributing to the individual coming into conflict with
the law. Unlike the adversarial approach of the traditional criminal courts, this program focuses on collaboration and problem-solving to develop and administer a
Individuals 18 years or older with a mental disorder substantially connected to the offence they are charged with can be considered for the program. Applicants must live in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and have a substantial connection to the city, such as work or school, and their mental health supports must be within the municipal boundaries.
Participants must also acknowledge responsibility for the offences they are charged with. This allows for the case to be moved out of the traditional court system and delays sentencing for cases where a guilty pleas was entered. The participant can then work with the court team to develop and complete their individualized support plan. Accepting responsibility also shows the individual is willing and open to work toward their own wellness and success.
Finally, individuals referred to the Mental Health Court Program must undergo a screening assessment by a clinician from the court team clinician. The final decision rests with the court team and requires the consent of the Public Prosecution Service.
As part of their graduation, participants in the Dartmouth Wellness Court are invited to create or donate a piece of their personal artwork to display on the Wall of Hope in the courtroom.
Additional Information & Program Resources
The court team is in the process of developing a series of information brochures to help the public learn more about the programs available at the Dartmouth Wellness Court.
The first brochure in the series, PART 1: ENTERING THE PROGRAM >> is available now. It provides information for individuals considering applying to the Mental Health Court Program and those who have recently been accepted into the program.
For more detailed information about the Mental Health Court Program in Dartmouth, click on any of the links below:
Drug Court Program
The Drug Court Program is a voluntary program for people 19 years or older who live in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and have been charged with a criminal offence substantially connected to their opioid addiction. The charge(s) must also be within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court.
Applicants must acknowledge responsibility for their actions and the Public Prosecution Service must consent to their participation in the program. To be eligible, applicants must also be participating in the Nova Scotia Health Authority's Opioid Treatment Program in Dartmouth.
For more detailed information about this program CLICK HERE >>
Alcohol Court Program
The Alcohol Court Program began as a pilot project in 2018. It was launched after the court team in Dartmouth noticed a gap in services and support for some accused persons struggling with alcohol abuse who have come into conflict with the law.
To be eligible for the program, individuals must have committed offences directly related to their alcohol addiction and must meet all the other eligibility requirements that those with an opioid addiction must meet. They must also secure a spot in a long-term residential care program to be accepted into the program.
For a list of the expectations of participants in the Alcohol Court Program CLICK HERE >>
The Dartmouth Wellness Court Team
The court team consists of a Crown attorney, a defence attorney (from Nova Scotia Legal Aid), a probation officer, three mental health clinicians (a social worker, a forensic nurse and an occupational therapist) and an addictions social worker. The Court also has available to it consulting forensic psychiatrists who provide opinions in situations where it is unclear to the Team whether a qualifying mental health disorder exists. The Court is overseen by a dedicated Provincial Court Judge.
The Mental Health Court Program's three clinicians, in consultation with the probation officer, complete the eligibility screening for each of the people referred to the Court. The decision to accept an individual into the program is made by consensus after thoughtful, thorough, and frank discussions among the team members and the Judge.
The defence attorney supports and advocates on behalf of their clients and provides assistance to the team. The Crown attorney is involved in determining initial admission for screening as well as addressing ongoing issues that may affect public safety. When an individual has complex or unclear symptoms, they are referred to the East Coast Forensic Hospital where forensic psychologists and/or psychiatrists are available to provide clarification and/or consultation. This partnership is vital to assisting the team in the screening, planning, and management of individuals involved with the Court.
The Mental Health Court Program's First Five Years
On Nov. 5, 2014, the Mental Health Court marked five years of operation. More than 200 people who came into conflict with the law because of their mental illness have graduated from the Court's program to date. They have been helped to get their lives back on track instead of being sent to jail. To mark its five year anniversary, the Court issued a report detailing its work. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE REPORT >>
On June 22, 2015, the Court released the results of an independent study of three of the Court's first five years. The comprehensive 72-page report details the findings of an evaluation conducted by Dr. Mary Ann Campbell of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies and the Psychology Department at the University of New Brunswick - Saint John Campus. Dr. Campbell found that the Mental Health Court is doing what it was intended to do and recommended that it continue to be funded. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE REPORT >>
The Mental Health Court Report, November 2014 READ THE REPORT >>
MHC Evaluation Report, June 2015 READ THE REPORT >>
There is also a Court Monitored Drug Treatment Program in Kentville.