Court as a health intervention to advance Canada’s achievement of the sustainable development goals : a multi-pronged analysis of Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court

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Garcia, Regiane A
Kenyon, Kristi H
Brolan, Claire E
Coughlin, Juliana
Guedes, Daniel D
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Abstract Background The increase in problematic substance use is a major problem in Canada and elsewhere, placing a heavy burden on health and justice system resources given a spike in drug-related offences. Thus, achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 3.5 to ‘Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse’ is important for Canada’s overall realization of the SDGs, including SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing). Since 2008, Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court (DCC) has pioneered an innovative partnership among the justice, health and social service systems to address individuals’ needs and circumstances leading to criminal behaviour. While researchers have examined the DCC’s impact on reducing recidivism, with Canada’s SDG health commitments in mind, we set out to examine the ways health and the social determinants of health (SDH) are engaged and framed externally with regard to DCC functioning, as well as internally by DCC actors. We employed a multi-pronged approach analyzing (1) publicly available DCC documents, (2) print media coverage, and (3) health-related discourse and references in DCC hearings. Results The documentary analysis showed that health and the SDH are framed by the DCC as instrumental for reducing drug-related offences and improving public safety. The observation data indicate that judges use health and SDH in providing context, understanding triggers for offences and offering rationale for sentencing and management plans that connect individuals to healthcare, social and cultural services. Conclusions Our study contributes new insights on the effectiveness of the DCC as a means to integrate justice, health and social services for improved health and community safety. The development of such community court interventions, and their impact on health and the SDH, should be reported on by Canada and other countries as a key contribution to SDG 3 achievement, as well as the fulfillment of other targets under the SDG framework that contain the SDH. Consideration should be given by Canada as to how to capture and integrate the important data generated by the DCC and other problem-solving courts into SDG reporting metrics. Certainly, the DCC advances the SDGs’ underlying Leave No One Behind principle in a high-income country context.
Globalization and Health. 2019 Dec 18;15(1):80