A new court opens in Kelowna on Thursday.
“An Integrated Court (sometimes called a community court) is not a trial court but eligible individuals may have bail hearings or plead guilty and be sentenced there,” the overseeing Provincial Court of B.C. explained in a news release.
The idea behind an integrated court is to get offenders struggling with addiction, mental-health issues or homelessness help they need to stop offending.
The court is the 11th specialized sentencing court and third integrated court in B.C.
“The goals of an Integrated Court include improving access to health, social, and economic services for the offenders it deals with; improving public safety by reducing recidivism; and holding offenders accountable for their actions in a timely manner,” the release explained.
“In addition to supervision in the community, these courts impose jail sentences when necessary.”
Integrated courts operate in downtown Vancouver and Victoria.
“Our Downtown Community Court in Vancouver and Integrated Court in Victoria have demonstrated the value of this model, where mental health and social services collaborate closely with the Court to support offenders dealing with mental health, addiction, and other challenges,” said Provincial Court Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie.
Reducing recidivism appeals to B.C. Attorney General David Eby.
“This model works to divert people away from the justice system, offering them lasting help to overcome the challenges they may be facing that lead them to being arrested again and again,” Eby said in a statement.
Retired BC Supreme Court judge Geoffrey Barrow co-chaired a local advisory committee that helped set up the court.
“The goal of an Integrated Community Court is to address gaps in the traditional court approach for people whose interactions with the criminal justice system are a result of their substance use, mental health or housing challenges,” he said. “The Court seeks to do that by connecting individuals with the supports they need in the community and by monitoring their circumstances while they are subject to community supervision.”
People who plead not guilty have their trial in the regular court system.