Mental health program diverting people from court system

About 67 per cent of people facing charges for minor offences in Red Deer provincial court and diverted to the Mental Health Diversion program improved their lives so their charges could be withdrawn.

About 67 per cent of people facing charges for minor offences in Red Deer provincial court and diverted to the Mental Health Diversion program improved their lives so their charges could be withdrawn.

About 130 people participated in the voluntary program for people with mental health issues or addiction since the program started in Red Deer in January 2010.

Mental Health Diversion gives people three to four months to access treatment and support from Alberta Health Services and community agencies with the possibility of having their charges dropped.

In eight cities across Alberta, more than 700 people went through Mental Health Diversion in the 2011-12 fiscal year and in 70 per cent of cases charges were withdrawn.

“It’s another avenue to reach individuals who can have serious and persistent mental health issues who are presenting in the court system. Instead of being charged with these minor criminal offences because they’re ill, they can be linked to support services that will help stabilize them,” said Susan Gerbrandt, clinical supervisor with Mental Health Diversion for Red Deer Addiction and Mental Health, on Wednesday.

Crown prosecutors decides who can be appropriately diverted to the program. Then a comprehensive mental health assessment is completed by Mental Health Diversion staff to determine their suitability and willingness to participate. Crown prosecutors then decide whether to adjourn the case for three to four months for people to work on their issues.

The program was developed to improve participants psychiatric status and link them to community-based treatment and support, as well as reduce criminal recidivism, hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

The program is for people with mental health problems like schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety, and those with addictions.

Another voluntary program, Corrections Transition in Red Deer, has also been running for about a year to link people held in Red Deer Remand with treatment and support upon their release.

“Our focus is to help in terms of release planning. We want to encourage people to be well and healthy in the community,” Gerbrandt said.

About 50 to 60 people have participated.

Alberta Health Services and Alberta Justice teamed up for both Mental Health Diversion and Corrections Transition, with assistance from community agencies.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com