Wellness Court - Northwest Territories

Program snapshot

Age group: Young adult (18-24); Adult (25-64); Seniors (65 and older)

Gender: Mixed (male and female)

Population served: Aboriginal/Indigenous; Adult offenders

Topic: Alcohol and/or drug use; Crime issues involving a mental health disorder or other health disorder; Recidivism

Setting: Rural/remote area; Urban area; Criminal justice setting

Location: New Brunswick; Northwest Territories; Yukon

Number of completed Canadian outcome evaluation studies: 2

Continuum of intervention: Tertiary crime prevention

Brief Description

The Wellness Court is an alternative to the conventional court system that focuses on the offender rather than the offence. The court and the supporting program provide intensive supervision and targeted programming for offenders who have an underlying issue(s) that contributes to their criminal behaviour.  A wellness plan is developed for each offender, outlining programming and goals they are expected to complete. When they complete their wellness plan, the offender returns to court for sentencing.

The Wellness Court program provides an opportunity for an accused person to make positive changes in their life prior to their sentencing. It is available to offenders who have committed offences in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NWT).

Goals

The main goals of the Wellness Court program are to:

  • Provide intensive supervision and targeted programming for offenders who have mental health issues, addictions, cognitive challenges or other issues that contribute to their criminal behaviour;
  • Help committed offenders move beyond re-offending and successfully integrate into their communities by helping them develop a healthier life; and
  • Give people a chance to change, while still holding them accountable for their criminal behaviour.

Clientele

The clientele for the Wellness court are chronic offenders (18 years old and above) charged with an offence and those currently facing charges after committing an offence in Yellowknife. Clients for this program also typically have mental health issues, addictions or cognitive challenges that contribute to their criminal behaviour.

To participate in the Wellness Court and its associated programs, the accused must be committed to making changes in their life and plead guilty to at least one charge. The defense lawyer works with the accused and the Crown Prosecutor to determine if the case can be referred to the Wellness Court. If the offender is referred, a case manager assists the accused to determine if the program is suitable for them. If the accused is accepted, an individual wellness plan is then developed for the accused.

Core Components

The Wellness Court is a specialized session of Territorial Court in the Northwest Territories. It serves as an alternative to conventional court and is intended to delay the sentencing of individuals accused of a criminal offence in Yellowknife so that they can participate in the Wellness Court Program. The central components of this program follow: 

  • The client must accept responsibility for their actions and plead guilty to at least one offence they are being charged for;
  • The client must be committed to making changes in their life and be seen regularly by the judge who monitors the client as they proceed through the Wellness Court process;
  • Individual wellness plans are developed to help offenders access necessary programming and supports to help them deal with their personal issues and address criminogenic needs such as: mental health and addiction programs, as well as housing and income support;   
  • Intensive support and supervision is provided by a case manager and team as the client works to make positive changes;
  • The program is voluntary and not a forced condition or court-ruled punitive measure;
  • The total duration of the program depends on the individual circumstances of each client, but the typical length of the program is about one year; and
  • Transition plans for aftercare that support the maintenance of a healthy, positive, and productive lifestyle are implemented three months prior to the completion of the wellness plan.

Implementation Information

Some of the critical elements for the implementation of this program or initiative include the following:

  • Organizational requirements: Cooperation is also necessary between departments and agencies in addressing social needs of the offenders (i.e., housing, income assistance, education, life skills, mental health, and/or addiction services).
  • Partnerships: The Wellness Court has numerous partners including: The Territorial Court; several departments within the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and community agencies (e.g., Department of Justice, Department of Education, Culture & Employment, NWT Housing Corporation, Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority, and Department of Health & Social Services); the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP); Public Prosecution Service; Legal Aid Commission; and Defense Bar.
  • Training and technical assistance: Limited information on this topic.
  • Risk assessment tools: The program works collaboratively with any resources that are available and deemed appropriate for the individualized wellness plan for the accused.
  • Materials & resources: The judiciary and GNWT Justice Department staff.

International Endorsements

The most recognized classification systems of evidence-based crime prevention programs have classified this program or initiative as follows:

  • Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development: Not applicable.
  • Crime Solutions/OJJDP Model Program Guide: Not applicable.
  • SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices: Not applicable.
  • Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy: Not applicable.

Gathering Canadian Knowledge

Canadian Implementation Sites

The first conventional court sitting of the Wellness Court was on October 2, 2014 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The Wellness Court program is a judicially supervised court program that is run by the GNWT.

Similar programs have been implemented in other provinces and territories in Canada such as the Community Wellness Court in the YukonFootnote1 and the Elsipogtog Healing to Wellness Court in New Brunswick.Footnote2

Main Findings from Canadian Outcome Evaluation Studies

No information is available for the evaluation of the Wellness Court in the Northwest Territories.

However, information on the evaluation of programs similar to the Wellness Court is available: 

Community Wellness Court (CWC) - Yukon:

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family conducted an outcome evaluation study of the Community Wellness Court (CWC) in the Yukon from 2007 to 2011. Data was collected from Program Case managers through entry and exit reports, the Court Record Information System, Justice Wellness Centre program records, follow-up interviews with CWC clients who graduated, and key informant interviews.

Results from this evaluation showed the following:

  • The process analysis and outcome analysis documented the successful implementation and effectiveness of the CWC;
  • CWC has contributed to reducing reoffending behaviour by clients who completed the program;
  • CWC has had a profound effect on reducing underlying issues (e.g., addictions and mental health problems); and
  • CWC has significantly contributed to helping clients change their lives and become more productive/ active members of their communities.

For more information, refer to the Hornick et al.’s (2011) publication.

Elsipogtog Healing to Wellness Court – New Brunswick:

The Elsipogtog Healing to Wellness Court in New Brunswick was evaluated  in 2015 by R.A. Malatest & Associates. The evaluation was initiated in February 2015 covering the first three years of the program. This publication is a provincial government document; results have not yet been made public.

Cost Information

No information available.

References

Hornick, J. P., Kluz, K., & Bertrand, L. D. (2011). An Evaluation of Yukon's Community Wellness Court. Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, University of Calgary. Available from: http://www.yukoncourts.ca/pdf/cwc_final_report_05-10-11.pdf

For more information on this program, contact:

Wellness Court
Department of Justice
4903 49th Street
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories X1A 2N4
Telephone: (867)767-9249
E-mail: wellnesscourt@gov.nt.ca
Website: https://www.nwtcourts.ca/Courts/wellness.htm


Record Entry Date - 2018-03-14

  1. 1

    For more information on the Community Wellness Court in the Yukon, refer to http://www.yukoncourts.ca/courts/territorial/cwc.html

  2. 2

    For more information on the Elsipogtog Healing to Wellness Court, refer to the specific program descriptive sheet.

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