The Final Report on Early Case Consideration of the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to the Justice System
The Steering Committee recommends that a range of adult diversion programmes, with clear operating principles/eligibility criteria of community use, be made available and that Crown counsel be encouraged to consider and promote the use of diversion programmes in all appropriate circumstances.
There was broad consensus during the consultations that resort to diversion and restorative options in appropriate circumstances are highly desirable. However, resourcing/funding issues are important factors in determining the number of programmes and options available. A number of jurisdictions reported an unfortunate lack of resources for adult diversion. The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Heads of Corrections Committee also noted that diversion from custody into community supervision could impact on the workload of probation and parole officers depending on who is required to provide supervision.
Recommendation Twenty-Six: Appropriate Consideration of Complementary or Alternative Forms of Justice
The Steering Committee recommends that each jurisdiction give consideration to a range of various alternative responses to certain types of criminal charges (e.g. mediation, sentencing circles, etc.).
- Cases that can be diverted from the criminal justice system at an early stage through complementary responses should be met with approaches that encourage restorative justice.
A number of commentators noted that the public interest must be taken into consideration when considering complementary or alternative forms of justice. Care should also be taken so that reforms are not, or are not seen to be,
“ privatized ” justice (the downloading of criminal justice to the community or the private sector). Criminal justice is a state responsibility and there are risks associated with devolving it to restorative justice alternatives that are less costly but also less visible and accountable to the public. If victim participation is required in these initiatives, it must be informed and truly voluntary.
The Steering Committee recommends that each jurisdiction ensure that there are equal justice initiatives for special-needs accused (e.g. accused persons with mental health issues, drug and/or alcohol addictions, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, etc.) which may include pre-charge diversion programs. The Steering Committee recommends that strategies to alleviate the over representation of mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice be given particular attention.
- The Steering Committee recognizes that strategies to alleviate the over representation of special needs accused requires adequate resourcing and recommends that this be seen by government as a priority.
- The Steering Committee recommends that courts and governments continue to explore the benefits of problem solving courts and processes.
The incarceration of mentally ill offenders has a major impact on adult correctional institutions. Various provinces are currently engaged in partnerships to create programmes for the diversion of the mentally ill from the justice system. The biggest deterrent to the diversion of such individuals is the lack of resources to support the necessary programmes. It was consistently acknowledged during the consultation process that whatever is attempted by way of reform in this area, public safety and, therefore, public confidence in the justice system, must be an important factor.
A number of jurisdictions are also exploring the benefits of specialized or
“ problem solving ” courts and processes. These courts develop treatment options for offenders that repeatedly commit minor offences because of drug addiction or mental health disorders. The court monitors and attempts to assist the offender's progress. While the process is resource intensive, it can bear long-term dividends if the offender is rehabilitated. Similarly, the domestic abuse court process seeks to break cycles of violence that repeatedly brings offenders before the courts.
The Vancouver Intensive Supervision Unit (VISU) was identified during the consultation process as an innovative multi-disciplinary approach to individuals that
“ cross-cut ” social, health and justice services. B.C. Corrections Branch, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Forensic Psychiatric Services jointly operate the unit. Probation officers and mental health workers staff it. They provide service to a caseload of 40 offenders with multiple psychiatric diagnoses for the duration of court ordered community supervision. Staff assists clients in obtaining basic living essentials, such as housing, financial management, access to health care services and access to mental health treatment providers. The goal is to reduce offending and admissions to hospital and psychiatric institutions.
The Steering Committee recommends that each jurisdiction ensure that continuing education and information sessions for all justice sector participants (including judges, justices of the peace, Crowns, defense and legal aid counsel, police, probation Officers, etc.) are organized and implemented to ensure that everyone is aware of the availability of diversion, restorative and alternative justice programs
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