Stronger partnerships and better training are key elements of the province's plan to improve care in custody for persons living with mental illness.
Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald and Justice Minister Ross Landry released government's response today, May 12, to Judge Anne Derrick's report into the death of Howard Hyde. The Building Bridges: Improving Care in Custody for People Living with Mental Illness plan outlines about 90 actions to address Ms. Derrick's recommendations.
"Mr. Hyde's experience makes it abundantly clear that we need to strengthen bridges between the criminal justice and health care systems, and build new ones for those living with, or affected by, mental illness," said Ms. MacDonald. "We want Mr. Hyde's family to know that his life will continue to touch others as we learn from his experience and work together to improve care in custody for people living with mental illness."
The plan focuses on five areas
— use of force
— mental health services within the criminal justice system
— access to and delivery of mental health services
As many as 4,500 people working in the criminal justice and health care systems will be trained over time. First priorities include understanding mental illness and identifying and responding to related behaviours, as well as the use of policies and tools, such as information sharing and the Health Information Transfer form. People living with, or affected by, mental illness will also be directly involved in some training.
Education in areas such as the importance of de-escalation and crisis intervention before use of force, has already begun and is making a difference. Since 2007, we have seen a significant decline in the use of conducted energy weapons, with a 74 per cent drop.
"Judge Derrick identified many areas that could be improved through appropriate and ongoing training," said Mr. Landry. "We are carefully reviewing the training we have now and will be building upon it to address the gaps we know exist. In fact, correctional officers and sheriffs have already completed use-of-force training as well as recognition-of-emotionally-disturbed-persons training."
A mental health and justice liaison committee, with representatives from the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia and Canadian Mental Health, is in place.
A provincial mental health strategy is being developed to address issues relating to access and delivery of services. The strategy will be based on recommendations from the mental health and addictions strategy committee, which is consulting with Nova Scotians, and expected to report this fall.
People living with mental illness who come into contact with the law need access to care and support. If the cause of their action is illness, and not ill intent, diversion programs that move them onto a path of recovery as they take responsibility for their actions are appropriate.
A diversion program, the Integrated Adult Restorative Justice Pilot Program, is operating in two communities. The mental health court, which opened in November 2009, also ensures that people assigned to it receive the care and support they need. Both the diversion pilot project and mental health court will be evaluated.
"We provide services to people who have contact with the justice system," said Dr. Scott Theriault, clinical director, specialty psychiatric services, Capital Health Mental Health Program. "Our goal is to reduce the contact of people living with mental illness with the justice system through initiatives like Mental Health Court. We welcome this opportunity to collaborate further to improve the quality of life and mental health recovery outcomes of individuals living with mental illness."
"The plan by the departments of Justice and Health and Wellness is a valuable guide to improve services going forward," said Peter Croxall, director of Capital Health Mental Health Program.
People living with mental illness need safe places to stay to successfully transition from custody to the community. A pilot project with government working with the shelter community and mental health organizations to provide individuals leaving custody with permanent housing is being considered.
"The release of this plan does not mark the end of our response to the Hyde Inquiry," Mr. Landry said. "Rather, it is a milestone in what will be a continuing, long-term, partnership effort."
The province will report on progress next year.
Building Bridges: Improving Care in Custody for People Living with Mental Illness can be found at www.gov.ns.ca .