06/22/2015 06:49 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia mental health court review says court effective, needs more followup

HALIFAX - An independent review says Nova Scotia's mental health court in Halifax should increase followup help for people who use its services to help reduce repeat offences.

The study released Monday by Prof. Mary Ann Campbell of the University of New Brunswick says people who use the court reoffend at about the same rate as a comparison group that used the traditional system.

About 31 per cent of the 22 people whose cases Campbell studied were charged with a new crime within a year of being referred to the mental health court, roughly the same as an equal number of people who were referred to the court but used the traditional justice system.

Judge Pamela Williams said at times, participants in the system aren't getting the help they need.

"Some of the folks who have reoffended lost contact with services after leaving the mental health court, so we need to do as best we can ... to sustain those services so people don't become unwell," she said after the report's release.

The specialized court sets up support plans for accused persons to improve their well-being and to try and reduce their likelihood of reoffending. If participants in the system follow the plans, they can avoid jail time for their offences.

The study shows the five-year-old court puts a heavy emphasis on ensuring psychiatric care, with 42 per cent of study participants receiving medication and followup.

However, only about five per cent of the participants in the mental health court told the study's authors they were offered help with educational upgrades, employment and daily living skills.

Williams said added personnel would help the court turn more people away from negative influences, whether it be alcohol abuse, drug addiction or spending time with people who lead them back into crime.

"We've been saying, 'Wouldn't it be great to have an occupational therapist or to have a recreational therapist?' " she said.

"There are many folks with mental illness who are very, very bright. ... Being able to enhance education or working are factors that really, really build people up."

Campbell said the province should continue to fund the court, which has an annual budget of $481,000.

There is evidence the court meets the needs of people who use the program as they cope with illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorders, the psychologist said.

Campbell said she's encouraged that those who go through all the steps of the mental health program seem to be the likeliest to avoid committing further crimes.

The report also says of those who were charged with new crimes, people who successfully completed the program stayed out of trouble for a longer period of time than those who used traditional courts.

Last November, Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab said there were no plans to extend the court's services beyond the Halifax area.

A Justice Department spokesman said the court's budget will be maintained but not increased.

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