Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Putting the "Special" into Specialized Courts

New Brunswick is focusing its efforts by creating specialized courts for particular offences that take into consideration the background of the offender(s). This is a good thing. In Moncton, New Brunswick we have a Court dedicated to domestic violence offences. The Court has a dedicated Judge, Prosecutor, Social Worker and is resourced to ensure that the facts of each case are given particular consideration before imposing a traditional custodial sentence. Often, offenders that are found guilty, are given strict sentencing provisions which may include mandatory anger management treatment and no contact order provisions which prevent the offender from re- offending. The uniqueness of this Court from others is that the Judge ensures accountability and strict adherence to its Order(s) by instructing the offender to reappear for an update on the counselling he/she receives. The purpose of this is to ensure compliance with the sentence imposed on the individual.

In Saint John our Province has a Mental Health Court. This Court deals with the sensitive issues surrounding criminal offences and mental illness. It's an extremely successful Court and the Judges hearing these cases have their hands full. In some cases, people who suffer from mental illness commit crimes they may or may not be culpable for. This Court allows for the accused to demonstrate to the Judge that their actions may have been attributed to their illness. In the event that they are the Court may take into consideration the illness of the accused an impose the sentence it sees fit.

My Department is looking at the need for a Provincial Drug Treatment Court. It was a platform commitment that we intend on fulfilling. I believe it's needed here in this Province as it has been proven successful in other Provinces in eliminating over populating prisons for minor drug related offences. Take for example an individual who is addicted to Oxycontin that breaks into a department store and sells the "hot" television to purchase drugs. Should this person be sent to prison where little treatment for their drug addiction exists? What if they have the opportunity to complete mandatory rehabilitation treatment and if successful avoids receiving a criminal conviction and record? Now don't get me wrong here. If you're a drug dealer and your caught distributing illegal narcotics then it's unlikely you're going to a Drug Treatment Court. These "specialized" courts are designed to promote rehabilitation to first time offenders if they can demonstrate successful completion of the imposed counselling and mandatory treatment.

We can use more of these Courts that specialize in people that offer specialized staff, resources and treatment.


Charles LeBlanc said...

Good one. I made a complaint to Bernard Richard office about the fact that once you're in jail?

You have no access to Methadone.

If you do the crime and you're on Methadone? You'll get it!!!

No methadone while in jail so once they get out?


The crime spree begins all over again!!!

Pretty stupid eh????

Awareness said...

I wholeheartedly agree with a multi-disciplinary approach when it comes to dealing with some of the complicated issues stemming from the human condition, especially a court which provides the beginning of potentially effective interventions and support for the convicted and the victims.

From my experience, much of the Dilaudid and Oxycontin related crimes and addictions stem from mental health issues which have been left untreated and addressed. When I work with someone who is struggling with addiction, we almost always talk about how the drugs and subsequent dysfunctional behaviour (which often has led to crime) are a symptom of mental health issues (depression mostly) and/or a life which is wrought with trauma and violence. It's an escape.
This isnt a new bit of info...... but from where i sit in a place where i have the honour and opportunity to work with human beings who are trying to get their lives in order, there is not enough early intervention opportunities. The courts, though sad that they have ended up there, is a logical catchment where good human healing interaction can begin.

There is always a reason behind the behaviour........we need to help where we can to enlighten and to be there with effective treatment.

I'm glad you're blogging TJ. You're tackling great topics. I may not post comments often, but I am reading along.

raincheck said...

awareness said: "I'm glad you're blogging TJ. You're tackling great topics. I may not post comments often, but I am reading along."

I feel the same way. I might not have anything to add here, but topics like this sure can spice up the lunch hour chats:)

The Pedgehog said...

Anything that puts more focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment is a good idea, I think. I fully support this approach.

Spinks said...

As long as the victim of the crime isn't forgotten about (which is far too often in the justice system) than I'm with pedgehog, making people productive members of society is a good move.

However we all make choices and accepting personal responsibility is an important element of rehabilitation. A responsible society helps the downtrodden even if they've done it to themselves but don't forget the victims of crime when coming up with strategies to reduce it.

Anonymous said...

This is another huge issue that needs more than just an introduction. A specialized court goes nowhere without the resources behind it. Interesting timing though, because the push for specialized courts is essentially governments way of admitting that the judicial system is 'failing society' (see next blog)

It raises many many questions: how many specialized courts are needed? Should EVERY category of crime have a specialized court? Are 'lawyer' judges even necessary for all of them?

Here in ontario a recent study came out with mixed results on the domestic violence court. There was the same amount of recidivism, but it was less extreme, and the data may very well point in the direction of simply backing up ANY court with resources.

But essentially 'we' are finally admitting that the adversarial form of crime and punishment simply is not that effective. I know Mr. Burke has to add that part about "don't worry, we promise that nasty drug kingpins will get what's coming to them", however, we know that's simply counter intuitive (especially since government is the biggest drug dealer there is).

But to point the finger at the media again, this is stuff that everybody should know about. Whether specialized courts or generalized courts are the direction for society should be a more open one. Most people don't even know that that's a major debate that's been going on in the legal system for decades. Good to see it get mentioned, hopefully more details will come out once the 'major issues' have all been mentioned.

In Saint John, for example, the mental illness court has been clamoring for more money (specialized courts are usually the first hit when budgets get tight).

They get an average of 28 new referrals a year, and as they admit, they are not a 'drug court'. However, that's a policy decision, a drug case can easily be said to be a mental illness case, so whether its more expedient to open a new court just for drugs, or to use the mental illness court is a very relevant one. What about cases where it is both? And again, just how many specialized courts should there be?

I'm not stating an opinion on that, those are just questions that should be part of PUBLIC policy.