Mental Health Diversion
How to get treatment for a mental disorder instead of a criminal record
Since 2004, the mental health diversion program has been available in Calgary, and quickly spread to Edmonton and most major centers throughout Alberta to ensure that adults and adolescents with a mental illness who are charged with minor low-risk offences receive care and treatment instead of being prosecuted by the criminal justice system. The Mental Health Diversion program is a positive step that helps to address the increasing criminalization of people with mental illness. Accused persons accepted into the program most commonly suffer from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders as well as mood, adjustment and anxiety disorders. Often a client’s mental illness is made worse by a drug or alcohol addiction. If found eligible for diversion, an individual receives community-based treatment that focuses on the specific mental health, life skill issues, and addictions that may have contributed to the offence.
The diversion program is available for individuals charged with less serious offences where there is a reasonable belief that a person is suffering from a mental disorder. Such offences include things like: theft, fraud, mischief, assault, obstructions, public intoxication. Sometimes, even more serious offences like break and enter, assault of a police officer, or even various forms of domestic violence can be referred to the program, but this requires unique circumstances and a careful assessment by a criminal defence lawyer.
A mental disorder is a substantial disorder of thought, mood, perception, orientation or memory. Our role as criminal defence lawyers is to convince the Crown that a client may suffer from a mental illness and would benefit from treatment instead of being prosecuted and convicted. Once the Crown gives his or her consent, health care workers complete an evaluation. If an accused person meets the internal criteria of the program, a three month court extension will be allotted to complete the treatment. We then go to court for a client and ask for a three month adjournment while they receive treatment. After those three months, if treatment has been completed, we again attend court and ask that the charges be withdrawn.
It is our job as a criminal defence lawyers to pursue any and all defences available. If you have been charged with a criminal offence and think you may be eligible for the diversion program, please call us. Barring unforeseen circumstances if you retain us and successfully complete the mental health diversion program, your charges will be withdrawn.