Alberta expands drug treatment courts

Jan 3, 2023

Earlier in December, it was announced that a new court recovery program will open in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Specifically, the program is aimed to provide recovery support to individuals struggling with addiction who are charged with non-violent offences instead of sending them to prison.

Moreover, the program is part of a province-wide effort to expand the drug treatment court system across Alberta. In order to participate in the program, candidates are required to submit a guilty plea, agree to drug testing and other conditions, and participate in the offered treatment programs.

“We want to build a community of help,” said Amber Fort, executive director of Pastew Place, in her interview with CBC News. “It’s giving people their parents back, it’s giving people their children back. It’s not just going to impact the individuals themselves. It will make huge impacts for the community as well.”

The program will be offered at the Pastew Place Detoxification Centre in Fort McMurray.

According to Fort, one of the benefits of the program is that participants can be introduced to supports they may not have known existed. In the first year of the program being offered, there are 10 spots for participants, and 20 spots in the year after.

In addition, Fort mentioned that individuals entering the program typically complete treatment programs and participate in the program to support their sobriety and recovery. The material covered in the program includes boundaries, relationships, and building friendships.

Each participant is also required to do 100 hours of volunteer work, which “builds those habits of giving back to the community that they have previously taken from while they were involved in criminal and drug activity,” said Trish McAllister-Hall, program manager for central Alberta drug treatment court services in Red Deer.

The program is life-changing for the participants, said McAllister. “Individuals work harder than they would in jail. And for some of our individuals, they spend more time in the program than what they would’ve been sentenced to.” She added that two of the people in the program were considered prolific offenders, and now they have been taken out of the crime cycle.

Furthermore, Matthew Reid, who is overseeing the provincial drug treatment court expansion told CBC News that some of the program’s graduates are able to secure permanent jobs and homes, and become reunited with their families.

The drug treatment court program has been expanded by the Alberta government since 2019. Fort McMurray is the fifth rural community to get the program, and once open, the provincial capacity will reach 180 participants per year.