Saving lives, one life at a time

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Victoria’s Integrated Court will be seven years old on March 16, 2017. Its latest annual report frankly describes its challenges and successes, and tells the story of one man’s rehabilitation in his own words. A former heroin addict and prolific offender, crime-free since 2010 thanks to the support of the Victoria Community Outreach Team, confessed, “I really did not like the team at first, they were always at my door, taking me to appointments, mental health and medical, and just to get me out of the apartment for an hour or two. ...”

How does Victoria Integrated Court (VIC) work?
A crucial aspect of VIC’s success is its integration with existing community health and social agencies. VIC works with mentally disordered, intellectually challenged and substance addicted offenders who are supported in the community by various outreach and treatment teams. Offenders working with these teams may choose to plead guilty in VIC and be bound by court-ordered conditions governing their behaviour and their participation in therapeutic resources. Their progress is monitored by a Provincial Court judge or judicial justice.

VIC’s roots in a community-led initiative are described elsewhere on the Court’s website, where its previous annual reports are also available. It uses approaches consistent with those found to contribute to recidivism reduction by the UK Centre for Justice Innovation in its August 2016 report, “Problem Solving Courts: An Evidence Review”. The Centre’s review highlights these features of successful problem-solving courts, all shared by VIC:

  • specialization with a target group
  • collaborative intervention and supervision
  • accountability for offenders through effective judicial monitoring (with certainty and clear communication more important than severity of sanctions)
  • focus on outcomes
  • procedural fairness (perception of fair treatment was found to be the most important factor driving better outcomes)

By the numbers
VIC dealt with fewer offenders in 2015/16 than in the previous year. This chart indicates some of the comparative numbers recorded in the 2015/16 report.

VIC’s Working Group explored possible reasons for the decline and was unable to reach definitive conclusions. However, since referrals seemed to have decreased, the group took steps to ensure that appropriate people and groups were aware of the court’s work and its availability. To that end, it distributed a pamphlet designed by Kristine Parker, a University of Victoria student and volunteer. The Court also broadened its entrance requirements to include some homeless clients who are not already supported by a team but have potential to engage with one. Those steps have proved successful in bringing more offenders to VIC.

Community Work Service
VIC offenders do community service at Serenity Farm, a therapeutic garden, from April through October each year. Both participant hours (1614 this year) and market sales ($6800 this year) increased over the previous year, while part of the 3400 pounds of produce grown was also donated to food banks and taken home by participants.

Successful outcomes
Results should be judged qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Some individuals who were once weekly attendees at VIC are now established in the community and not reoffending. Fourteen people attended residential substance abuse treatment in 2015/16. While attendance at a treatment centre is not the final step in rehabilitation, it is a very encouraging first step, especially for this population. There were also notable positive sentencing reviews for offenders who were given special recognition in VIC for their progress.

And one chronic offender wrote this touching tribute:

I am a 45 year old former heroin addict … I was a prolific Offender for the last 25 years of my life, I was involved in the drug trade as well as Theft Under’s and commercial Break and Enters. … Rarely did I manage to stay out of jail for more than a month at a time.

Then I was referred to a newish program of Intensive Supervision by an Outreach Team that had everything rolled into one, Social Services, Probation, Healthcare, Mental Health and a Primary and Secondary Worker that supervises in the community. Even with all this, I still found ways to mess up. … Then something extraordinary happened. My Primary Worker came into court and stood up and said, “I believe that I can work with him and we have a rapport” and with that I was given a second chance. Then I started to change. This did not come over night nor is this a process that is done yet. But I sincerely believe that without the VICOT (Victoria Community Outreach Team) team, this change would not have come.

I really did not like the team at first, they were always at my door, taking me to appointments, mental health and medical, and just to get me out of the apartment for an hour or two. And I have connected with my primary worker and I do believe that … this connection and this team, has saved my life, not to sound too dramatic, but at least from a further life in prison, at most from an overdose death or worse. … Since … 2010, I have not had any new charges. For me this is a miracle. Thank you.

Challenges for VIC
Stable housing, a necessary first step to effective management of offenders, remains a significant challenge for VIC participants, while the lack of publicly funded residential drug and alcohol treatment programs on southern Vancouver Island continues to impact VIC’s work. However, progress has been made towards integrating Forensic Psychiatric Services with VIC, in so far as conversations have begun about how to fill this noticeable gap in VIC’s services. Recognizing the value of consistency and familiarity with participants in effective judicial oversight, the Provincial Court is also doing its best to avoid excessive turn-over in the judges presiding in VIC. Work is also being done to revise current court bail and probation conditions using plain language while meeting legal requirements.

With the continued support and hard work of dedicated police and sheriff services, Community Corrections, the business community, Crown and defence counsel, and the supportive teams and agencies, VIC is looking forward to the challenges and successes of the next year.

Read the full 2015/16 VIC Report.