Today is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, designed to raise awareness about mental health. As my twitter feed was taken over by the hashtag, I thought about the difficulties that the criminal justice system has in dealing with issues of mental health. Still, there are many success stories, and one particular case came to mind that illustrates the importance of our mental health courts, but also the fundamental importance of bail.
He has lived with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for many years and found himself in a very difficult period. He was then charged with a relatively minor shop-lifting offence. Fortunately, I was able to get him into the mental health court, where he reconnected with a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) worker who got him back on track with his psychiatrist. His health stabilized and after a ‘rehabilitative’ adjournment, his charges were eventually withdrawn.
This outcome is due many factors: a Crown who was willing to give him a chance, a dedicated CMHA worker, but most importantly, the fact that he was out on bail. The file was originally screened by the Crown for jail, and had he not been released from custody after having been charged, I have no doubt that he would have simply plead guilty and served his sentence. Instead, he was able to stay out of custody, not only improving his health, but reconnecting with the services that he needs to keep on the right track.
Bail is an important part of the criminal justice system regardless of an individual’s background. However, for an individual with mental health issues, it can provide a critical opportunity to access services and supports to stay healthy, which in turn keeps the entire community safer.