Calgary

Judge who blasted lack of support for mentally ill teen raised 'very important' concerns: Notley

Premier Rachel Notley says she'll direct her government to find more supports for young offenders with severe mental illness after a Calgary judge went to unusual lengths to highlight how the justice system failed a 14-year-old boy.

Premier pledges to provide more treatment options for young offenders with severe mental illness

Premier Rachel Notley speaks to reporters in Calgary about supports for young offenders with mental illness. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Premier Rachel Notley says she'll direct her government to find more supports for young offenders with severe mental illness after a Calgary judge went to unusual lengths to highlight how the justice system failed a 14-year-old boy.

As what he described as "a last resort," Judge Steve Lipton summoned reporters to his courtroom Thursday to publicly assert how "very, very angry" he is at the lack of services and supports available for the vulnerable teen.

"He's mentally ill, and I'm keeping him in jail and he's a kid," Lipton said. "What is wrong with this picture?"

The Indigenous boy, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, faces charges of assault, failure to appear, mischief and theft.

The teen also suffers from paranoia and hallucinations and is heavily addicted to crystal meth and alcohol. He has expressed fears that people will try to kill him or inject him with drugs while he's sleeping.

The judge would have preferred to send the teen to a secure treatment bed, but all beds in the southern Alberta region are full.

Lipton said he would have also preferred to send the teen to a secure safe house for youth who need substance abuse treatment — but all those beds were full, too.

"This is the ugly situation I am faced with today," he said.

'Very important' concerns

On Friday, the premier said the judge raised valid points.

"There's no question the concerns that were raised yesterday are very important ones, because we need to be able to provide the kind of support and secure care that our young people need when they're in crisis," Notley said.

"And there's no question that we need to make sure that we do a better job of finding that kind of support closer to communities where that support is needed."

Part of the problem, Notley said, is that the province has been shifting its treatment processes away from secure facilities and toward more community-based options, leading to a "gap" that needs to be filled in the meantime.

"But at the same time, sometimes those secure spaces are needed," she said.

"And when they are needed, they should be closer to the community. So we'll be asking the ministry to ask to look at innovative ways to increase those spaces closer to home."

Alberta has five secure treatment facilities with 23 beds. Of those, 11 beds are in the southern regions. If there isn't a spot close to home, other regions may temporarily take in someone who needs help.

"In a situation that a bed is unavailable in a facility closest to the youth's community, we have a protocol in place in which we contact other secure facilities for short term support until a space becomes available closer to the youth's home," 

Alberta also has 242 publicly funded child and youth mental health and addictions beds.

The boy will be back in court on Monday to see if any beds have become available. 

now