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June 19, 2005

Court Opened for Mentally Ill

A new court will be opened in Canada that will be specifically for the mentally ill. The court will open in the Waterloo region this fall and will be open half a day a week in the beginning. This part-time court for the mentally ill will benefit all of those with mental disorders who have had a brush with the law due to their ailment.

Most of the offenses that the court will deal with will be minor assaults, for example, theft or drug offenses. "While the mental health court will send some accused people to jail, Nicklas said its goal is to keep mentally ill people from languishing in jail and to link them to community agencies and psychiatric services to help stabilize them. They will be referred to agencies that will help them with housing, medication requirements and job searches. The court will be less adversarial than normal courts, Nicklas said. The idea is to have judges, court clerks, defense lawyers and Crowns familiar with issues surrounding mental illness" (Wood, 2005).

Many individuals with mental illness, who commit crimes, are forced into the courtroom which can be very distressing for them. Someone with a severe mental disorder is not going to be able to follow the behavioral norms that are insisted upon in court.

This will also help keep the mentally ill from just being thrown in jail. Some "studies have shown that 30 per cent of people in prison have a mental illness" (Wood, 2005). Many of them are forced into jail where they can not receive all of the mental services that they need to survive. Those with a mental illness should still be held accountable for their actions, but not nearly to the extent that those without a mental illness are. Someone with schizophrenia may not know that what they did was wrong or even remember it. What that person would need is psychiatric rehabilitation as well as the supervision required to make sure that a similar event did not happen again in the future. For those with substance abuse problems, they would also have some form of drug rehabilitation.

There are few courts that specialize in the mentally ill and so this is a positive step in the right direction. "The initiative is part of $27 million in funding the Health Ministry announced in January to keep people with mental illnesses out of the justice system. Another $125,000 has been received by the local mental health association to help pay for the court support services" (Wood, 2005). This initiative will not only help raise awareness for the mentally ill, it will also increase sensitivity to their plight.

For more information on Bipolar Disorder Advocacy go to: http://www.moodswing.org/advocacy.htm

The source of this article was Toronto Star Newspapers

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