A new kind of court

Victoria Integrated Court takes different approach with repeat offenders

Victoria Police Const. Laura Fluit

Editor’s note: The name Jeannine is a pseudonym to protect the individual’s identity.

The run-ins with police amounted to about 400 in about two months. Jeannine was in and out of the hospital and jail. She called the streets home.

That was less than a year ago.

Now, after nine months as a client of the downtown Assertive Community Treatment team and Victoria Integrated Court, Jeannine lives in a one-bedroom apartment. She’s slashed her encounters with police to just one a month and she’s regained her self-worth.

“We see a lady who definitely required our support and was high profile in the community who got to where she has got her dignity back,” said Rick Sanderson, an outreach worker with the downtown ACT team.

Integrated court has operated in Victoria for just over a year  and those involved are praising its success. About half the people who go through the hands-on system once haven’t been charged with crimes again. A few, though, haven’t improved.

“The frustration I had as a judge in the regular court was dealing with multiple repeat offenders,” said provincial court Judge Ernie Quantz, who was vital to initiating the local integrated court. “There was that cycle. … The desire I had and my colleagues had was to support the teams.”

Here’s how it works: three ACT teams and VICOT, or Vancouver Integrated Community Outreach Team, are frontline workers who daily see people struggling with mental health and addiction issues. These are individuals who are frequently arrested, who are regular faces at the courthouse and are often admitted to hospital for infections, injuries or the effects of drugs and alcohol. About 100 of these people in Victoria are clients of the teams.

The teams are made up of outreach workers like Sanderson, as well as nurses, psychologists and social workers.

A teams’ client who is charged is often sentenced in Victoria Integrated Court, or VIC. As a specialized division of the normal court system, VIC has one dedicated judge and one Crown counsel to oversee all the cases, every Tuesday morning.

Having the same people deal with every case gives consistency through  communication and builds trust, said Const. Laura Fluit, a Victoria police officer who works with VICOT.

“Everyone’s involve in making you succeed,” Fluit said. “If you don’t want to be involved, you can leave the team.”

According to Quantz, the teams identify individuals with a willingness to be active members of society.

“Here, the basic philosophy of the court is we want to support you with your recovery … we recognize their reality and that reality is they’re not going to get off drugs tomorrow,” he said.

The VIC judge, who as of March is Adrian Brooks, has leeway to impose different kinds of sentences on the clients than the normal court system. It might be a shorter sentence so the client doesn’t run the risk of forfeiting his or her housing while in jail. It might be work service hours with the goal of having that person repay their debts to the community.

Quantz said the sentences shouldn’t be perceived as lenient. Daily or even twice daily contact with the teams means any veering from the court-imposed conditions of a sentence are caught straight away and dealt with.

“It’s the whole idea of immediate consequences and repaying the public,” he said.

The Downtown Victoria Business Association works with VIC to offer community service work on its Clean Team – sometimes within hours of a sentencing.

“I think the clients believe in this … because it is a tailored solution,” said DVBA general manager Ken Kelly. “These are people who are not only frustrated with themselves, but the community is frustrated with the situation that is created when nothing is done to address the challenges.”

This summer, Quantz and others will release a report on the effectiveness of VIC and outline where this new system – which aims to manage almost all aspects of these individuals’ lives in a hands-on way – still has gaps.

“We just keep kidding ourselves to think the police and the justice system will solve all our problems,” Quantz said.

“I think at the end of the day, society needs to create the extra step to go from (sentences in a courtroom) to a more inspired, more productive life. We all have to be a little more open to the idea that we are all responsible.”

VIC was launched without a drop of extra money – except to buy a coffee machine for the meeting room used on Tuesdays. By rethinking how the system can work, big improvements have been achieved in Victoria, said judicial justice Brenda Edwards.

“What we’ve really learned here is that with no new funding, we can produce a benefit, just by doing things differently.”

ecardone@vicnews.com

 

Positive reinforcement

Many clients who successfully get through the VIC system return to court for positive reinforcement. When team members and a judge recognize the improvements people have made, it encourages continued rehabilitation, Sanderson said. The pride the teams have for many of the clients is something many people have never experienced before, he said.

 

Just Posted

Peninsula Streams Society to restore 120 metres of Colquitz Watershed

With goal of contributing to the recovery of cutthroat and coho salmon

Sidney Museum donates 60,000 Lego bricks to local schools

Sidney, Deep Cove, ḰELSET, Brentwood, Keating and Cordova Bay elementary schools get Lego avalanche

Victoria City Council approves inclusionary housing policy

After years of back and forth, the policy will be ratified in two weeks

Filipino Heritage Month event takes over Centennial Square

Dancing, music and food highlight Mabuhay Day celebration in Victoria

Victoria Weekender: What’s happening this weekend, June 15-16

Car Free YYJ, a barber battle and an Outdoor Discovery Day

Homalco tour gives glimpse into area’s ‘People, Land, Water’

First Nation business mixes cultural components with wildlife excursions

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

Monkey spotted on late-night jaunt in Campbell River

Conservation officers also apparently looking for cougar in the area

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

Most Read