Special court programmes offer alternative sentences that may include domestic violence intervention, mental health supervision, monitoring of drug offenders who do not qualify for the Drug Rehabilitation Court and – within the Traffic Court – a programme for people guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. Referrals to the Treatment Courts are made by the probation officers who also facilitate the intervention programmes and make referrals to the Counselling Centre where appropriate.
Treatment Courts look at alternatives to prison. They look for the roots of offending behaviour. They try to help each defendant see why his/her behaviour was wrong, then accept responsibility for it and make amends. The presiding magistrate consults with a team that may consist of probation officers, counsellors, social workers and even medical staff to determine the appropriate action to be taken in each case.
Domestic Violence Court
Depending on the type of criminal offence, probation officers may conduct risk assessments, for example probation officers may be asked to determine if a defendant would be a suitable candidate for the Domestic Violence Intervention (DVI) programme. In some cases, the defendant who is accepted into the program may continue to live in the marital home, or they may be directed to reside elsewhere. Risk assessments continue throughout the process.
The DVI programme requires each defendant to attend court once per month so that the presiding magistrate can be updated on the offender’s progress. Probation officers from the Department of Community Rehabilitation report on attendance at 32 mandatory weekly meetings, provide details of the level of participation, and feedback from the victim of the assault. Participants have confirmed that the skills they learned have helped them deal with conflict in other areas of their lives.
Drug Rehabilitation Court
The Drug Rehabilitation Court orders may include a regime of counselling, attendance, drug screens and peer sessions. The main goal of the Drug Rehab Court is to get a repeat offender to break the cycle of drug use and criminal behaviour.
Mental Health Court
Defendants attending the monthly informal Mental Health Court are there because of criminal charges such as possession and or consumption of illegal drugs or burglary, theft, damage to property or threatening violence; often a combination.
A therapeutic model has been adopted for the Mental Health Court that includes counselling and medication, with possible sanctions to follow for those who do not maintain the directives that are issued by the Court. This approach means monitoring by the court, with consideration of each defendant’s progress by a team of professionals dedicated to the task, in pre-court closed meetings with the magistrate presiding. Whatever confidential information was shared is not disclosed in open court when the magistrate speaks to each defendant. Team members sit on the side, ready to answer any questions or address issues the defendant may raise. The Mental Health Court team includes probation officers who work with defendants on an individual basis. Monitoring of defendants in the Mental Health Court may include requiring urine samples for drug tests.