Project Spotlight: Community Support Court Records Analysis

Host Organization: Peterborough Local Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee

Student: Nhu Nguyen

The Project: Peterborough’s Community Support Court is an alternative criminal court for offenders with mental health or substance abuse issues, with the goal of minimizing jail time and reducing recidivism rates.

Established in 2011, the Community Support Court’s records had never been analyzed to evaluate the court’s success and compare it to similar courts in other jurisdictions.

The goal of this project was to research best practices for mental health and drug courts and to compare Peterborough’s Community Support Court with other similar programs in Ontario. The student, Nhu Nguyen, was also asked to analyze the Court’s operational records to evaluate its success at reducing recidivism rates.

Research Questions: What is current best practice and research on drug and mental health courts? What forms of mental health and addiction diversion court programs exist in Ontario? What can the existing statistical data on the Peterborough Community Support Court reveal about the operations and success of the Court?

Methods: Nhu conducted a literature review to understand the history, best practices, and current research on drug and mental health courts in Canadian communities. Then, she performed various statistical analyses on the Peterborough Community Support Court’s data that has been kept since 2011.

Findings: Nhu produced an extremely thorough report on the history and best practices of mental health and drug courts in Canada. Her report explored some of the different approaches taken to court diversion throughout the country, and compared Peterborough’s Community Support Court to these other initiatives.

For example, while there are numerous mental health courts and drug courts in Canada, Peterborough’s is one of the only such courts that serves individuals with both mental health and/or addictions issues.

Nhu found that the Community Support Court was succeeding in helping to reduce recidivism rates. “The findings of my study indicate that diversion program completion was associated with reduced recidivism,” Nhu says, though she was cautious about inferring a direct causal relationship.

Impacts: The Peterborough Community Support Court has been operating for seven years, but Nhu’s research project was the first evaluation of the Court’s success to date. “I hope the project will have a great impact on the workings of the court from now on,” Nhu says. Supporters of the Court have already said that the research findings will change the way the Court operates in Peterborough.

In particular, Nhu notes that she identified several mental health and criminal history factors associated with completion of the support court program. “These findings can be used in the future to identify participants at high risk of not completing the program in order to provide them with more support and attention,” she says.

Community-based research has also helped Nhu to grow as a researcher. “Through this project, I have had the opportunity to hone my data analysis skills,” she says. “My ability to communicate research findings, both verbally and in writing, also improved.”

Nhu Nguyen was a winner of the TCRC’s “Academic Achievement in a Community Setting” award at our 2018 Celebration of Community Research