Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia mental health court working, report says

A new report evaluating the Nova Scotia Mental Health Court, which assesses clients with mental disorders who’ve committed criminal offences, has determined that funding should continue to support the court, as it is performing its functions correctly.

Study compared cases that went through mental health court to those processed in traditional court

The independent evaluation of Nova Scotia's mental health court was led by Dr. Mary Ann Campbell. (Centre for Criminal Justice Studies)

A new study says Nova Scotia's mental health court is meeting its goal of dealing compassionately and sensitively with criminals with mental health issues, however over the short term they were just as likely to re-offend as those in the traditional court system.

Funding for the mental health court should continue, according to the independent evaluation led by Dr. Mary Ann Campbell of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies and the psychology department at the University of New Brunswick. 

"The fact that the first time out of the gate, the first independent evaluation is saying you know what, you're doing things fairly on par with what we see in the regular system," Campbell said.

"That to me is a good thing. You're not making anybody worse."

The study examined the mental health recovery, criminal risk and re-offending risks of 22 people whose cases were reviewed by the mental health court. The study then examined 22 different cases in which people were referred to the mental health court, but were instead dealt with through traditional courts. 

Key characteristics — including demographics, re-offending risks, criminal behaviour, risks of relapse, and mental health recovery — were compared in all cases to determine the effectiveness of the mental health court. 

Chief Judge Pamela Williams, who presides over the court, said the study shows what is working, but also where the court can improve.

"Could we use more resources? Yes. Are Thursdays busy? Oh, yeah. Upwards of 40 to 50 people on the docket with court going anywhere from 1:30 to 4:40, 5:00," Williams said. 

"Pre-court meetings being three hours, three-and-a-half hours long. So, Thursday is a very, very busy day. Yes, we could use more resources, but we do with what we've got."

Pamela Williams, the presiding judge over the Nova Scotia mental health court, says the report proves the court is doing its job, but still needs some improvement. (CBC)

The mental health court program, which began in 2009, assesses clients with mental disorders who have committed criminal offences, and their future support needs.


  • The study revealed 30.8 per cent of mental health court participants were charged with a new crime in the 12 months after their cases was processed. Of those cases that were processed through traditional courts, 31.5 per cent re-offended in 12 months. 
  • Participants who successfully completed the program avoided new offences for longer periods of time, compared to the traditional court cases. 
  • Participants who did not respond well to the program were likely discharged early, but also had more significant needs and a higher risk of re-offending.
  • The mental health court team were better at meeting challenges unique to each participant, compared to the traditional correctional system.
  • Participants suffering from substance abuse had their needs met more efficiently by the mental health court. 

Dr. Campbell's recommendations

  • To continue investing in the mental health court as an alternative means of processing mental health cases.
  • To adopt a criminal risk screening assessment to coexist with the mental health screening process.
  • To develop or improve resources that address current and future needs of high-risk offenders.
  • To continue in-house data tracking for the purposes of future evaluations.