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Mental Health Diversion and Court Support

Diversion is a process where alternatives to criminal sanctions are made available to people with mental illness who have come into contact with the law for minor offenses. The objective is to secure appropriate mental health services without invoking the usual criminal justice control of trial and/or incarceration. Treating the mental disorder, it is hoped, reduces the likelihood of further offending and the focus is on helping individuals to access community support and treatment.

In general, mental health diversion programs take one of three forms: (a) police pre-arrest, or pre-booking diversion; (b) court diversion and; (c) mental health courts (MHCs). Arrest diversion allows the police to use their discretion in laying charges. Court diversion programs, on the other hand, are post-booking, pre-arraignment programs that involve staying charges for eligible offenses if the person agrees to treatment. In addition to the mentally ill defendant and her or his family, MHCs involve a dedicated judge, crown, defence, and court support worker (CSW). Characteristics of MHCs include: (a) all identified mentally ill defendants are handled in a single court/docket, (b) the use of a collaborative team which includes a clinical specialist who recommends and makes linkages to treatment, (c) assurance of availability of appropriate clinical placement prior to the judge making a ruling, and (d) specialised court monitoring with possible sanctions for noncompliance (Steadman, Davidson & Brown, 2001).

For a complete listing of diversion and court support services, seeĀ Mental Health Helpline’s mental health services in Ontario directory.

Source: Dr. Kathleen Hartford et al., ‘Evidence-Based Practices in Diversion Programs for Persons with Serious Mental Illness Who Are in Conflict with the Law’ (September 2004)