A Look at Mental Health Court Diversion Programs

Jill Pollock


The mental health court diversion program is a community based program which diverts individuals out of the criminal justice system and into the mental health system where they can access necessary mental health care, treatment, and social supports. In cases where individuals have been charged with a criminal offence, and where the Crown Prosecutor believes their mental illness to be the underlying cause of the criminal conduct, the accused may be eligible to participate in a mental health court diversion program. Once the individuals complete this program, their charges are withdrawn or stayed and no convictions/criminal record is produced.

This qualitative research project explored the experiences that people with mental health issues have had regarding their participation in mental health court diversion programs between January and December, 2007. In-depth interviews were conducted with four service users of this program.

Findings from this study suggest that individuals with these issues are better served through the mental health system rather than the criminal justice system. Research participants felt that aspects of service provision, such as having supportive workers and being linked to other mental health and social services were strong components of the diversion program. Lack of resources, the experience of stigma/discrimination, and the impact of criminalization were identified as issues which affect individual health, well-being and recovery.

By participating in this research, individuals were able to share their experiences and give voice to their own stories, thus creating a platform of opportunity for improved service delivery of mental health court diversion programs.