The Journey to Recovery in Drug Treatment Court

A year and a half ago, Stephany was facing 30 months in jail for crimes she committed to support her drug addiction. After a 19-month journey, she graduated from Edmonton’s Drug Treatment Court (DTC) as a strong courageous woman with a bright future – actively engaged in recovery, prepared for employment, and most recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

The Edmonton DTC program is a specialized, intensive one-year (minimum) court-supervised drug treatment program aimed at helping participants break the cycle of crime and addiction. Legal Aid Alberta provides Duty Counsel Services to DTC participants and the program’s service delivery in Edmonton is managed by the John Howard Society.

Participants in the program complete a monitored drug treatment program rather than being incarcerated. Successful graduates return to the community with access to secure housing, employment or schooling, and the tools to continue their recovery. The success of the DTC program is evident through its graduates, who are at a much lower risk to re-offend. “Just over 70% of the graduates from The Edmonton [DTC] have not had new criminal convictions,” says Grace Froese, Manager of The Edmonton DTC.

Stephany was very busy during her time in the program. On evenings and weekends, she attended over 275 meetings and completed 140 hours of community service. During the day she was actively involved in day programs that “encompass life skills, parenting, emotional and anger management, financial literacy, relationships, family relations, cultural and spiritual programs, residential and day treatment addictions courses and counselling, education and employment training, psychological and psychiatric counselling sessions and programs,” says Froese. “Over and above all this, Stephany also attended for over 120 drug [testing] screens and over 60 court appearances where she had to be accountable to the Judge and the courts on an ongoing basis.” 

Albertans who complete the program participate in a graduation ceremony in the courtroom where their success is celebrated with friends, family, mentors, former graduates and the stakeholders who played a part in supporting them through their journey to recovery. In Stephany’s case, this celebration happened on August 28, 2019.

“When someone graduates from the Drug Treatment Court program we are celebrating not just the completion of the program but also an entire life change that involves rebuilding every aspect of your life, learning to live long term in recovery and moving forward from a life of addiction and crime,” says Froese.

“The best part of the program is seeing the human being emerge from behind the addiction,” says Joan Blaine, LAA’s Drug Treatment Court Duty Counsel Lawyer.

Looking into the future, Stephany has plans to return to the workforce and begin her career as a nail technician.

The objective of DTC is to help offenders by treating the underlying problems that lead to their addiction, and the loss of control that can ultimately lead to crime. Participants are required to adhere to strict guidelines and are evaluated every week by the DTC team and the court judge. It is a rigorous program that requires dedication, a commitment to recovery and is by no means a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

“We are accountable to the courts…to deliver a program that adheres to very strict guidelines and rules that ensure our participants are actively and genuinely engaged in making major life changes (they will not graduate without doing so) but we also have a responsibility to the community. It is important to know our participants are graduating as contributing members of society who are no longer draining the justice, legal, health care and human services systems but are now living as productive, contributing members of society,” says Froese.

Legal Aid Alberta has been involved in the DTC program since its inception in 2005 in Edmonton. The multi-disciplinary DTC team also includes the Judiciary, Provincial and Federal Crown Prosecutors, the John Howard Society, an Edmonton Police Service Liaison, and a Probation Officer.

In the coming weeks, we will feature most stories about Albertans who have benefited from the program to showcase the positive impacts that this Court has in the rehabilitation of an offender.

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