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Pilot mental health courts seen as success

Bermuda's pilot mental health courts have shown great success — but the Government should follow through and have it enshrined in law within the next year.

That is the hope of Jodi Lewis of the Bermuda Mental Health Foundation (BMHF), which advocates for citizens with mental health issues.

“The BMHF has researched this pilot programme; we think it's an amazing programme filled with dedicated professionals who want to get the job done,” Ms Lewis said.

“I think they need the legislation to move it to the next level.

“We advocate for the Government to get fully behind it — it's been a long time coming, a lot of people are involved. Our wish would be for it to happen within a year.”

Judges have called repeatedly for a realistic alternative to help people with mental issues who end before the courts. Budgetary constraints have hobbled efforts to create a mental health court: it was contemplated under the Progressive Labour Party administration, but delayed.

A pilot court was assembled in 2013 based on a United States model, with Mark Pettingill, the Attorney-General of the day, conceding that the need for a residential facility presented a challenge.

Asked about the progress of the programme, Minister of Legal Affairs Trevor Moniz said it had already proved its worth.

“It has been operational since 2014 and has proven successful at diverting participants from the criminal justice system and breaking the cycle of recidivism.

“Accordingly, efforts are under way to garner the necessary resources and to enact legislation for its permanent implementation.”

The programme — based on the drug treatment court programme — is a co-ordinated endeavour involving a number of government departments and stakeholders designed to help keep those with mental illness get help and avoid reoffending.

“There are distinct criteria for eligibility and entrance into the mental health treatment court programme that take into account the prospective treatability of the mental illness of would-be offenders based upon exhibited symptoms,” Mr Moniz said.

“The nature of the alleged offence is another decisive factor, as the programme is intended for non-violent minor offenders.”

Mr Moniz added that eligible persons had to agree to get treatment, as the chances of success hinged on “voluntary admittance and willingness to co-operate with treatment”.

“Furthermore, the Department of Court Services, Department of Public Prosecutions, Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute, the Legal Aid Office, Magistrates' Court and the Bermuda Police Service will have to agree to admitting the individual after assessment by a consultant psychiatrist,” Mr Moniz said.

“Not everyone is eligible or suitable as the programme is not designed to rehabilitate all would-be mentally ill offenders.”

Bermuda's Mental Health Act dates to 1968, with the Human Rights Commission urging for the Island to address mental health rights and senior magistrate Juan Wolffe calling for advocates to maintain pressure on the Island's legislators.

Trevor Moniz

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Published August 22, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 22, 2015 at 1:47 am)

Pilot mental health courts seen as success

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