Red Deer’s new drug court is already changing lives.
The first person to pass the intensive screening process, and begin what will be a two-year journey towards a hopefully better future, was in court on Monday to give Red Deer provincial court Judge Michael Scrase an update.
The 33-year-old Red Deer man had previously pleaded guilty to drug trafficking as one of the conditions to enter of entering into the drug treatment court program that began running this year.
Since being accepted into the program overseen by The John Howard Society of Red Deer at the end of January, its first local participant has completed a 42-day drug treatment program. He has returned home and is now participating in community-based programs with addictions services, which includes working with a mentor and a therapist weekly, Trish McAllister-Hall program manager for Central Alberta Drug Treatment Court Services.
On Monday, the man, who has now been sober for 285 days, told the judge how his life was improving.
He spent Easter weekend with a sister and was thrilled to hold his baby niece in his arms. The man said he has two sisters in central Alberta, as well as other family in Ontario, and they have been a big part of his recovery.
“They’ve been very, very important to me,” he told the judge.
Outside court, he said the drug treatment court program has been a life-changer.
“I don’t think, honestly, I’d have been able to escape the lifestyle I was stuck in without it,” he said. “It’s an amazing program. They’ve done so much for me already.”
His methamphetamine addiction eventually led to crime, arrests, charges and court dates.
“Meth is an interesting drug. It can really skew your judgment and your morals.”
He tried more than once to get clean, but found it difficult to get the necessary support, including financial help, to make the break.
“They don’t make the supports easy to get without a program like this.”
McAllister-Hall gave him much credit for how hard he has worked to get where he is now.
“He’s really stayed motivated and wanting to make a change in his life. As a result of being in the program just a short time he’s made connections with his family that he thought was not going to be possible ever again.”
As of Monday, the man had officially completed the first phase of the program and handed a certificate. The achievement means some restrictions are eased. For instance, the 9:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew has now been extended to 11 p.m.
The program is not for everybody, said McAllister-Hall. “It does require a high level of motivation. We’re pleased with what we’ve seen so far and we’re pleased with the applicants we are putting through the program.”
Two more central Albertans were accepted into the program on Monday.
A young man, who was charged by Sylvan Lake RCMP with a string of crimes, including possession of fentanyl and cocaine, along with charges related to stolen bikes, a laptop, iPad, tools and other items, appeared before the judge.
After pleading guilty to all his offences, he was approved to join the program and must abide by a list of conditions, including a curfew and cannot drink or take drugs and submit to random testing to make sure he is clean. He also cannot leave the province and even his phone must be approved by program supervisors.
The same conditions applied to the program’s third applicant, a young woman from central Alberta who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and will soon be entering a Calgary drug treatment program to begin her journey.
The judge offered encouragement to all three.
“I’m excited for anyone who gets into this program,” said Scrase. “It’s a fantastic program.”
Alberta’s first drug court was introduced in Edmonton in 2005 and Calgary followed two years later. In the last two years, drug courts have opened in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Grade Prairie and Red Deer.
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.
Supporters of drug courts point to their success. Seven out of 10 graduates from the programs in Edmonton and Calgary have had no further brushes with the law.