It’s still too early to quantify the progress of an alternative court for chronic offenders, but early indications are positive.
The Victoria Integrated Court launched in March 2010 to reduce the rates of reoffending in this population. To qualify, the accused must be a client of one of several outreach teams dedicated to vulnerable populations with high rates of homelessness, drug addition, hospitalization and other vulnerabilities. The specialized court, with a dedicated judge and counsel, meets weekly.
In its first year, 93 of its 128 clients have had reduced contact with police. Thirty-two, however, have increased contact.
The report, by consultants R.A. Malatest and Associates Ltd., analyzed the court’s progress based mainly on accounts of stakeholders, such as social workers, probation officers, police, Crown counsel and others.
Frequent collaboration between these stakeholders means more informed decisions on the clients’ behalf, and interventions better tailored to their needs, according to the report. However, while the court’s model of community care “has begun to reduce re-offending behaviour among offenders … it is too soon to begin assessing the measurable impact on recidivism.”
Sentencing is also a bit different in integrated court. They often involve heavy surveillance in the the community but sometimes less jail time to ensure offenders don’t lose their housing.
“It is a (more lenient) system tailored to the individual, not the crime,” said Ken Kelly of the Downtown Victoria Business Association which helped to launch the court. The results, however, are more effective, he said.
Sentences often include community service hours, overseen by the DVBA’s clean team, removing graffiti, painting or other jobs. Several offenders have received work experience leading to offers of employment as a result of successfully completing their community service.
There are problems, however.
“Sentences are occasionally seen as too permissive or conditions too informal, particularly when offenders do not engage in the process,” the report concludes.
Also, some applicants are not accepted due to caseloads of the outreach teams.
Finally, while the integrated court aims to ensure clients’ needs are met with community supports, those often don’t exist. Hospital beds aren’t available for people suffering from mental disorders; and the island lacks both public residential addiction treatment programs and a women’s correctional facility making it difficult to co-ordinate follow-up support.
The VIC was estabilshed without any extra funding.