The Yukon government will be completing one final evaluation on the effectiveness of the Community Wellness Court, before its funding is scheduled to run out.
The court is a long-running pilot project that was planned until the end of next year. Then the government will have to decide whether it should continue to be regularly funded.
The court was first announced in 2007. It targets offenders who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions, mental health problems or cognitive disabilities such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Once someone has pleaded guilty and been accepted into the court, an individual “wellness plan” is created. They usually spend the next year and a half getting various types of counselling and other support. They check in with the court on a regular basis.
Sentencing takes place after that is complete or the person has left the program.
The goal is to address the underlying, root causes of a person’s behaviour.
“This is an avenue for trying to decrease the rates of recidivism – of reoffending,” said Justice Minister Mike Nixon. “If we can prove through this program that we’re in fact doing that, then ultimately what we’re doing is decreasing the rates that people are being victimized. That’s something that’s important to me from where I sit.”
The program gets reviewed every two years, but until recently there have not been enough participants to get a good overview of whether it is effective, Nixon said.
The minister estimates about 72 people have completed the court’s programming.
About 102 have started the process, but not everyone has made it all the way through. There are about 30 people involved with the court right now, Nixon said.
Conceptually it is easy to see the benefits of the court, he said, but having concrete data will help the government make a decision.
The latest government budget earmarks $473,000 for the program.
Nils Clarke, executive director of Yukon’s legal aid, said he believes the wellness court has been a “qualified success” and should continue to be funded.
“If the right resources are brought to bear, then people can stop the descent,” he said.
Nixon added that an effective community wellness court helps more than the people who appear before the judge.
“The review and the program will help people be healthier. It will promote healthier communities and perhaps more productive citizens and at the end of the day eventually reducing costs for the taxpayers,” he said.
Clarke said some people can struggle with the length of commitment that is required, but the clients he deals with appreciate the opportunities the wellness court provided.
“Our clients are human beings, and I think that for the most part human beings don’t want to live in despair or with addictions and this is a way to help that.”
The plan is to have the evaluation completed by March – the end of the fiscal year. A final report will be completed a month or two after that, Nixon said.
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