Kelowna’s new integrated court has seen more than 200 people in less than six months, according to a city staff report.
The integrated court was established in May, of this year, in partnership with the John Howard Society to focus on offenders struggling with addiction, mental health issues or homelessness. It seeks to reduce crime and improve public safety by providing health and social services with the justice system to address the causes of criminal behaviour. It is a sentencing and bail court, not a trial court, but eligible people may have bail hearings or plead guilty and be sentenced there.
According to city staff, the courtroom looks and addresses a person’s sentence and how it relates to underlying conditions. The judge creates a more informal atmosphere while maintaining the authority of the court and Crown counsel uses a team approach instead of an adversarial one seen in traditional courtrooms. Individuals before the court also have more freedom to speak, and a team of support staff is also present.
This approach allows the justice system to partner with the community and social service agencies to help those that come through the court. It also increases trust in the court and engagement with vulnerable individuals.
The report also highlights the need for more transitional housing and housing for individuals with complex needs. Clients are often released from correctional facilities into homelessness, or are unable to obtain housing due to complex needs and challenging behaviour. This increases the risk of relapse, according to the John Howard Society.
This update comes after Kelowna RCMP presented its 2021 Q2 and Q3 public safety and crime data on Monday (Nov. 22).
The report highlighted the pandemic’s impact on social wellbeing in Kelowna: there have been 226 domestic violence calls in the third quarter of this year, compared to 177 in 2019. Sexual assault saw a 25 per cent increase, from 32 calls in 2019 to 40 calls in the third quarter of 2021.
The vast majority of criminal offences, however, are from property offences. There were 3193 reported offences in the third quarter of 2021 compared to 3088 in 2019, a 3.4 per cent increase.
“Kelowna RCMP will also stay the course on increased visibility in downtown, Rutland and parks, while continuing to collaborate with cross-sector partners (i.e. Interior Health) for citizens experiencing mental health and substance use issues,” wrote Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance in the report.