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Wellness court reduces criminal relapses: report

A detailed study of Yukon's Community Wellness Court has concluded that the program is helping to reduce repeat offenders.

A detailed study of Yukon’s Community Wellness Court has concluded that the program is helping to reduce repeat offenders.

The court, created in 2007, 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 get various types of counselling and other supports and check in with the court on a regular basis.

Sentencing takes place after that’s complete, which typically takes 18 months to two years, or the person has quit the program.

The 88-page report looked at data from 2007 until the end of 2013.

Twenty-six clients completed the program and were sentenced. That’s about a quarter of the people who started.

But considering only those who have been in the program long enough to finish it, the report concludes that’s actually a completion rate of 38 per cent.

The program “has been very successful at reducing reoffending and enhancing the safety of Yukon communities, particularly Whitehorse, by reducing the risk of CWC clients to reoffend,” according to the report.

“I think the court itself helps to spark that difference, but the individuals themselves at some point want to change their lives too,” said therapeutic court co-ordinator Tanya MacKenzie.

The report compares people who completed the program to those who only made it partway through. It has no comparable statistics for people outside of the wellness court.

In some cases it breaks down the numbers even further, splitting up people who left the program before and after they started a wellness plan.

Only 12 per cent of the clients who completed wellness court were charged with new substantive offences after they left. Only four per cent got new administrative charges like parole violations.

Twenty-nine per cent of the people who left before beginning a wellness plan reoffended with substantive charges. The number is 31 per cent for those who left after starting a wellness plan.

People who completed the program came to court with an average of 3.1 substantive charges and 1.3 administrative charges. After they finished the program they accumulated, on average, 0.2 new substantive charges and 1.2 new administrative charges.

“I always look at those who partially complete and fully complete as successful,” MacKenzie said.

One client was a man who had been involved in the justice system for 43 years, often coming to court with seven to 10 charges each time he was in front of a judge, she said.

He completed the program “and is two years out and he is still quite successful not reintroducing himself into our system.”

That also means he’s not accessing the RCMP, ambulance, hospital or arrest processing unit.

The report also shed lights on the kind of help that people got through the program.

The most common service used was individual counselling, accessed by 74 per cent of completed clients and 65 per cent of partially completed clients.

First Nation clients make up about 58 per cent of people who come to wellness court.

Almost three-quarters of the aboriginal clients who completed the program made contact with First Nations during that time. That’s compared to just over 40 per cent of the partially completed First Nation clients.

For those clients who received substance-abuse treatment programs, 96 per cent of the completed clients were rated as having made significant progress in dealing with their substance abuse issues while in the program, compared to 53 per cent of the partially completed clients.

“We’re really trying to make those initial connections with the hopes that once they’re out of the justice system they have all these supports in place, so they’re not coming back to us again,” MacKenzie said.

The report was released after the program secured stable core funding for the next three years.

The Yukon government gives around $450,000 a year. An additional $100,000 comes from the federal government.

Contact Ashley Joannou at