The judge presiding over the Nova Scotia mental health court says it has been a success in turning lives around.

The court, which diverts people from the regular justice system, has had an 86 per cent success rate, according to officials.

About 200 people charged with everything from shoplifting to impaired driving say the court got them the help they needed.

Artwork lines the walls of the courtroom, where offenders must accept responsibility for what they've done.

Clinical depression was a big factor in charges of impaired driving and fleeing police for Heather, who did not want her last name used.

“I was facing some serious jail time through the provincial court system. When I came down through the mental health court system, I was given a second chance,” she said. “I had weekly check-ins with the judge where I came to this very courtroom."

Judge Pamela Williams monitors offenders, who must follow a prescribed treatment program for a year. The 200 or so people who have gone through the program have avoided jail time.

Kelly Rowett

Legal aid lawyer Kelly Rowett says there are strict rules to be accepted into the program. (CBC)

“If we can get them before they go through those doors, we are saving taxpayers, the person, and their victims a lot of grief,” she said.

Darren is now working full time, but five years ago he was in mental health court on drug charges.

“I’m really glad to be here where I’m at and where I'm going,” he said.

The court is now handling between 20 and 40 cases a week. Justice Minister Lena Diab says she is pleased with the success, but has no plans to expand the service beyond Halifax.

Five years after the mental health court was established, the Department of Justice has commissioned a study to find out how often the 200 graduates have been hospitalized or re-offended.

Legal aid lawyer Kelly Rowett says it’s important information, but not the only measure of success.

“It’s a success to me if someone is supported in the community,” she said. “If they have housing, medication. If they re-offend, they re-offend, and that gets dealt with.”

Rowett says there are strict rules to be accepted into the program.

“You have to have the Crown's consent, you have to acknowledge the offence and it has to be something we can help you with,” she explains. “Once those facts have been established, then you, the judge and social workers establish an action plan for you to follow.”

Williams says it's a good model to follow.

“Evidence would show that therapeutic model such as this do help to reduce the likelihood of re-offending,” she said.

Offenders agree, saying what the mental health court provides the help they need to stay out of trouble.