Mr. Speaker: I am pleased to report that earlier this month the Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories launched the Wellness Court, supported by a new Department of Justice Wellness Court Program.
The Wellness Court is an alternative to conventional court that focuses on the offender rather than the offence. This court, and the supporting program, provides intensive supervision and targeted programing for chronic offenders who have mental health issues, addictions or cognitive challenges that contribute to their criminal behaviour. With this program we hope to help offenders develop a healthier life and move away from re-offending.
In a conventional court, a person who is charged comes before a judge who will look at the offence, listen to all the evidence and make a ruling based on the case and information before them.
In the Wellness Court, a person who is charged also comes before a judge, but their sentencing is delayed so that they can participate in the Wellness Court Program. In this program, a case manager and team provide intensive support and supervision to the offender as they work to make positive changes. The team helps them access services such as housing and income support, as well as mental health and addiction programs.
To participate in the Wellness Court and its associated programs, the accused must be ready to make changes in their life, accept responsibility for their actions, and plead guilty to at least one charge. The defense lawyer will work with the accused and the Crown Prosecutor to see if the case can be referred to the Wellness Court. If referred, a case manager will assess the accused to determine suitability with the program. If accepted, an individual wellness plan will be developed.
While completing their wellness plan, the offender must maintain this commitment to change and appear regularly before the judge who will oversee the entire process. During this phase, the case manager and team provide intensive supervision and support to the individual.
Offenders who participate in this program are subject to conditions to guide them. If they break these conditions, they will return to the court for sentencing unless they work with their case manager to remain in the program.
If they complete their plan, the offender will appear before the Judge for sentencing, taking into consideration the work and progress they have made in the Wellness Court Program. After sentencing, the team will arrange after-care to ensure continued support for the offender.
Mr. Speaker, by having a person accept responsibility for their actions and supporting them as they do the hard work necessary for change, specialized courts in other jurisdictions have demonstrated chronic offenders can not only succeed, but can successfully change their behaviours. We have seen success through the Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court, and we expect similar success from the Wellness Court.
The Territorial Court is critical in the implementation and operation of this specialized court. Without this, the Wellness Court and supporting program would not have been possible.
The Department has also worked very closely with the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority, and the Department of Health and Social Services in setting up the Wellness Court Program. The RCMP, Legal Services Board, the NWT Bar and staff from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada have also made important contributions.
Mr. Speaker, our thanks go out to each of these partners for the role they played in the development of this project and will continue to play to ensure the success of the Wellness Court. This is a new initiative and we expect that both the court and the supporting program will evolve over time.
Our government is committed to ensuring that NWT residents get the programs and services they need to be healthy, educated and self-reliant. This alternative form of justice is another positive step towards giving people the tools they need to make good choices for themselves that will help us to reduce crime and build safer communities.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.