The Government of Alberta expects the new Red Deer drug treatment court to be up and running before mid-2022.
Its opening can’t come soon enough, said Mayor Tara Veer, after Alberta Justice stated Red Deer’s drug court could still be about a year from starting.
The local drug court was supposed to become operational by the end of 2021 when the project was first announced in 2020. Veer heard a delay was partly caused by the pandemic, but also because the drug court project is tied to a provincial residential addictions treatment centre that’s also expected to be operational next year.
“The drug court has been a long-standing advocacy issue for the city, so sooner is better than later, in the interest of community safety,” Veer said on Tuesday.
Drug courts help low-level, non-violent offenders recover from addictions disorders with the aim of reducing future criminal activity.
As an alternative to jail, these offenders are required to go into addictions treatment, to abstain from substance abuse, and to fulfill the legal requirements for the offences they have committed.
In 2019, the provincial government committed $20 million over four years to create Canada’s first provincial drug treatment court program. In June 2020, it was announced Red Deer would be getting a drug treatment court, as well as a residential addictions treatment centre.
Veer said the city has been helping the province identify possible land parcels for the $5 million, 75-bed treatment centre, which is now in the design phase.
She’s hoping the province will soon make its choice of site known. Whether the public has a say over the location will depend on which parcel is chosen and its zoning, she added.
Regarding the operation, Veer still hopes it can start up before mid-2022 and process cases swiftly.
“Over the last couple of weeks we have been in near daily conversations about it with the province,” she added.
So far, the Alberta government has opened two other drug treatment courts in mid-sized cities: in Lethbridge in November 2020, and Medicine Hat in January.
Katherine Thompson, communications advisor of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu, confirmed in a statement five new drug treatment courts will serve rural and remote communities, outside of Edmonton and Calgary, including in Red Deer.
“We’re continuing to work closely with community members and stakeholders to have the three remaining new drug treatment courts, including in Red Deer, up and running before mid-2022… details on the final two new drug treatment court locations are still being worked on,” Thompson said.
Drug treatment courts aim to help break the cycle of “addiction-related crime” by helping Albertans with addictions get their lives on track, said Thompson.
The aim is to reduce the number of crimes motivated by drug addiction, using judicial supervision, treatment, drug testing, incentives, sanctions and social services support, she added.
“Increasing investment in drug treatment courts also benefits Albertans in general, by preventing and/or reducing addiction-related crime in their communities.”
Alberta’s first drug treatment court started in 2005 in Edmonton. The second one opened in Calgary two years later.
Both have reported that 70 per cent of their graduates remain crime free after program completion, said Thompson.
“In general, program participants report decreased levels of addiction risk whether they graduate the program or not, and those who don’t graduate, leave the program at lower risk to fall back into addiction and reoffend.”
Many of drug treatment court graduates end up giving back to the community by working as peer support for drug treatment courts or in the addictions community, she said.