As an initiative of the community in our provincial capital, the Victoria Integrated Court (VIC) is committed to keeping the public informed about its work. To that end, it recently issued its fourth report outlining its challenges and successes.
Participants in VIC are repeat offenders who are supported by various community teams and who plead guilty to a less serious offence. In 2014-2015 VIC dealt with 82 individuals, including 13 with developmental delays and 5 with brain injuries. The over-representation of aboriginal offenders in criminal courts persists in VIC - 11 participants were from First Nations.
The court team works full-out to deal effectively with this number of participants in the time available. VIC sits one half day each week. During the morning a judge or judicial justice reviews participants’ progress, team members meet with lawyers to discuss possible community sentences, and bail and sentencing hearings are held.
A great deal of work is done outside court by team members (psychiatric, social and outreach workers, police and probation officers). They help participants locate appropriate housing, obtain government benefits, access drug and alcohol treatment programs, receive medical and psychiatric care, dispense medication and funds, attend probation appointments, perform community service and learn life skills.
Offenders may be sentenced to community work service. It’s not just a means of paying back for a wrong done, but also an opportunity to acquire skills and contacts that could lead to employment. Whether or not that happens, community work also gives participants a sense of belonging to a community. In 2014 VIC participants spent 1307 hours in the Community Garden Project, producing 2588 pounds of food for sale. Gardening had important psychological effects as well. Participants showed lower anxiety levels and improved mood and socialization.
Reviewing offenders’ progress on supervisory court orders is a significant part of VIC’s work. Regular reviews include both encouragement and sanctions to help offenders change their behaviour. For example, reviews are used to encourage participants to attend residential treatment programs - and in the last year 18 individuals did so. However, because effective reviews are time-consuming and its court time is limited, VIC has decreased the number of reviews it schedules.
VIC’s challenges include operating at numbers beyond its capacity, and lack of housing for participants whose disruptive behaviour makes them unsuitable for many resources. Housing is a crucial underpinning to all the work that support teams and VIC do in the management and treatment of offenders.
VIC’s successes continue to be inspiring. The report includes five great stories, including that of C.E., who suffers from schizophrenia. In 2010 he was hospitalized regularly for problems including failing to take psychiatric medication. Arrested for spitting on a police officer, he first appeared in VIC in December 2010. He was eventually placed on an order crafted in the consultation room of VIC that helped establish a support care plan. Although C.E. struggled over the next year, court reviews seemed to have a positive effect. They continued until he began to receive consistently positive reports. He last attended VIC in June 2012 and now has stable housing, works in the community garden, has opened a bank account to save money, and has resumed a relationship with his mother.
R.D. is a woman with multiple challenges, including FASD and alcohol and drug abuse. When intoxicated she can become violent and engage in self harm. She first appeared in VIC in April 2013. Over the last two years she has appeared frequently in the Court, but is starting to form positive relationships with her community supports, particularly the 7 Oaks ACT team and Community Living BC. Unlike most offenders in traditional court, R.D. recently said, “I would like to come back. It helps me.”
Progress like this makes the dedication and hard work of everyone who contributes to VIC - police services, community corrections, business community, supportive teams and agencies, Crown and defence counsel, court staff and judicial officers - worthwhile.
Read the Victoria Integrated Court Report 2014 - 2015. Find more information and previous reports on the Specialized Courts page of the website.