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Central Alberta drug court celebrates first anniversary

Drug court offers justice alternative to those whose addictions led to criminal charges
The Provincial Court of Alberta will be renamed the Alberta Court of Justice beginning April 1. (Advocate file photo)

Central Alberta’s drug treatment court is celebrating a successful first year and has plans to grow.

Drug courts are a pre-sentence justice alternative for people whose struggles with addiction have led to criminal charges. To be accepted into the program, participants have to be highly motivated to change their lives and pass an intensive screening process.

Since the first person was accepted into central Alberta’s program in January, eight others have enrolled and are working their way through the five phases of the two-year program overseen by The John Howard Society of Red Deer.


Drug treatment court offers hope

Drug treatment court program manager Trish McAllister-Hall is pleased with how well the drug court has gone and there are already plans to expand to 15 participants by the middle of next year.

The first participant, a man in his 30s, who began the program in January will soon be entering Phase 4 of his recovery and hopes to attend Red Deer Polytechnic in January. To get this far, he has gone through a 42-day drug treatment program followed by participation in a number of community-based addictions services programs while meeting regularly with counsellors and therapists.

Drug courts have been successfully operating in Edmonton since 2005 and in Calgary since 2007. In fall 2020, they were introduced in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, with Red Deer and Grande Prairie following a few weeks later.

McAllister-Hall said the program aimed at providing participants a better life free from crime and active addiction has been well-received in central Alberta.

“Across the province, we’ve probably had the quickest uptake in terms of expanding our numbers,” she said on Wednesday “We started out a little slow, but things have really picked up and we just have a really great group of participants who are very dedicated to their recovery.”

As the number of participants has grown, so has the program itself. Narcotics Anonymous is now offering its support, a yoga recovery program and financial literacy course have been added to go along with the courses, counselling and athletic therapy participants can access in the community.

McAllister-Hall already has plans to begin offering more programs, including a criminal and addictive thinking course that will start in January.

“We’ll continue to work with community organizations to build a more robust program,” she said.

The drug court program is a collaboration that includes specially trained judges, Crown prosecutors, probation officers, RCMP, Alberta Health Services and the John Howard Society.

“Every member of the team plays an equal and valuable role,” said McAllister-Hall, adding they meet each week along with program participants to review how things are going.

Red Deer Assistant Chief Judge Robin Snider said the entire team is invested in the success of those involved in the program.

“It is about more than sobriety. They work hard to improve all aspects of their lives and to maintain long-term recovery and success,” said Snider in a statement.

“Over the course of many months we watch our participants change and grow. It is a journey filled with ups and downs, but it is an incredibly gratifying experience for all of us.

“This program, not only helps individual participants, but improves the larger community and keeps people out of our criminal justice system in the long term.”

People in the program must show they have been drug-free for a minimum of six months, including the three months before graduation. Should the applicant quit or be terminated because of non-compliance they will go back into the court system to have their charges dealt with in the usual way.

Those who successfully complete the program may still face punishment for their crimes, but it will not include jail time.

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