Calgary CourtHouseThe Calgary court house located downtown. This is where the drug treatment court operates. Photo by Christian Kindrachuk

Traditionally, people who have committed drug-related offences in Canada face criminal charges. However, the Calgary Drug Treatment Court can give offenders a second chance: an opportunity to receive rehabilitation, rather than penalization. 

“What’s compelling to me about the program is the extent to which people make absolutely transformative change in their lives,” says Arla Liska, chief executive officer of the CDTC operations branch.

The program is made up of seven branches: council, judges, operations, police services, probation, prosecutor and treatment. These branches help to make sure the process runs smoothly.

“The CDTC is an evidenced-based program that integrates court intervention and treatment services to end drug-driven crime, and assists participants to return to family, work and community,” says the CDTC website.

The participants of the program usually have similar traumatic backgrounds, specifically childhood trauma, and these events can sometimes be the reason they turn to drugs. 

“Eighty five per cent were either physically or sexually abused as children or exposed to some other chronic traumatic situations like long-term domestic violence, or chaotic family of origin, addiction.” -Arla Liska.

In an effort to try and help people rather than penalize them, the drug treatment court has a process that continues to prove effective today. Viewing this as a get out of jail free card falls short of what the program actually provides.

“If they are interested in applying, they can plead guilty to their charges that are before the court, and if they’re accepted into the program [..] their sentencing is delayed until they complete the program,” says Liska.

Liska Arla Liska, the Chief Executive Officer of the CDTC Operations branch. Photo Courtesy of Jim Pritchard

Applying to the program also requires a Crown screening, which goes through the Crown prosecutor’s office. Afterwards, participants are assessed for a Schedule 1 drug addiction; these are the most dangerous drugs with a high potential of abuse. 

The program takes around a year to complete, with a probation period after people have graduated from the program. It is broken up into five stages, with the first one being intensive treatment, which aims to focus on addiction treatment, and rehabilitation, which lasts for 12 weeks.

“I was resistant to a lot of things, but ultimately at the end of the day, I realized those things were good for us, being held accountable and being honest, and the program is definitely the basis behind everything we do,” says Luke Phui, who graduated from the CDTC program in June of last year.

The second stage is also a 12-week program for developing recovery skills, which has participants attend a minimum of three support groups and attend court, all on a weekly basis. It is also the stage where they are aided in finding drug-free housing and employment. All of this helps the person get back on their feet and in a stable environment.

Due to the high prices that drugs cost, often people who are in an addiction cycle resort to crime in an effort to supply their addiction. 

“On average they’re spending $2,400 to purchase drugs per week,” says Liska.

The third stage is a practical application which has participants working full time and making sure they can pay their bills. They also continue to work on their recovery skills for another 12 weeks.

Nearing the end of the program is stage four, which the CDTC calls the community transition part of the program, aimed at increasing each participant’s social aspects within communities through activities such as volunteering.

They also continue to be in contact with the people they worked with, helping to create a safety net within communities so they do not relapse back to criminal activity. This part of the program takes place over a three-month period.

The final stage, graduation, is achieved once participants have been in the program for a year and have met all requirements from previous stages.   

Skepticism towards the effectiveness of the program is common among participants. However, once the program is complete, the benefits of the treatment and the connections they have made are invaluable. 

The Calgary Drug Treatment Court can turn people’s lives around and give people who may have once been hopeless and stuck in a cycle of addiction a second chance. Graduates are driven by positive goals of employment, reconnecting with their family and friends, and paying off debts.

“Our most recent recidivism studies showed an 82 per cent reduction in convictions from our graduates,” says Liska.

People who go through the system are unlikely to reoffend, which gives them another chance, like Phui.

Phui’s story is not uncommon. The story of people who get involved with selling drugs or committing crimes to support their addiction can happen to anyone. Due to Phui being able to find help through the drug treatment court, his life has changed for the better.

“My life has changed substantially,” says Phui. “I have a legitimate job, I’m doing very well at work; just in the last year since I’ve been at this new job I’ve been promoted to the video manager. I’m top sales in the country.”

Currently working at Visions Electronics, his story shows how the drug treatment court can be effective at rehabilitation. This could not have been done as effectively otherwise due to the personal touch that the drug treatment court offers to people who enter the program. 

“I thought there was hope, but at first it was a reason to try to get out of jail. But once I was in the program (I) realized that the case managers, and everybody, even the judges in the program, actually care what’s going on with us,” says Phui. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been close to an authority figure.”

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