Pubdate: Tue, 08 Mar 2016
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Kim Bolan
Page: A1


Addicted Offenders Find Help Getting Sober, Starting Fresh

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Michael stood before Vancouver 
provincial court Judge Harbans Dhillon and told her he was ready to 
change his life.

"Before I came in here, I was on the longest drug run of my life. I 
was using for four years daily," Michael said.

Dhillon called for a round of applause to mark Michael's formal 
admission to the 15-year-old drug treatment court. And she asked 
Michael his views on the program to which he was committing the next 
year of his life.

"I was a little hesitant, obviously, going into something new," he 
said. "But it is the best thing I have seen out of the system, ever."

Many of the addicted offenders who've entered the program lavish 
praise on its staff - from medical personnel and counsellors at the 
treatment centre to Dhillon, the veteran provincial court judge who 
has presided over the specialty court since October 2014.

When the drug court job came open, Dhillon jumped at the opportunity. 
"It is a great honour and privilege to be doing this work and to be 
really seeing the community in all its difficulties and trying to 
find justice in it," Dhillon said in an interview.

"I had been a judge for 15 years and had done work in every area of 
the court and I was interested in doing drug treatment court because 
it provides a different view of justice."

Ordinary criminal court involves hearing the facts of a case, then 
submissions, rendering judgment and sentencing those convicted.

"In drug treatment court, an individual comes in and says, 'I am 
willing to plead guilty and accept responsibility. I'm an addict. I 
need treatment,' and, as a judge, I follow that individual and that 
individual's case until that person can get as far as they can in 
their treatment, including, we hope, to graduation, and we sentence 
at the end of that process."

She gets to know the people she sees week after week, which is 
evident on Tuesdays and Thursdays when those in the program arrive in 
Courtroom 303 to check in. Dhillon asks how they're finding the 
intense program, but she also asks about family members, pets, even 
what character on Game of Thrones they like best.

She offers encouragement when the reports in front of her show clean 
urine tests. She thanks them for their honesty when they admit they've slipped.

Dhillon asked The Sun not to use full names of program participants 
to protect their privacy.

The program can last anywhere from 14 months to two years, depending 
how quickly participants progress through its four phases. It starts 
with daily sessions at a treatment centre.

"It is said by many that this court's program is demanding. And it 
can be arduous. Sometimes it is easier just to do time in jail," Dhillon said.

"But those who take this court's program know that they will become 
stabilized and, we hope, healthy and whole. And the research bears that out."

A 2012 Simon Fraser University study found that drug-related 
recidivism of program participants was reduced by 56 per cent over a 
two-year period and overall criminal re-offending was reduced by 35 per cent.

Dhillon said the success comes from all the social supports available 
to participants, including addictions treatment with counsellors, a 
doctor and public health nurse. There is also financial support, help 
with housing and a court team that works closely with the treatment team.

Two key people on the court team are federal prosecutor Maggie 
Knowlan and defence lawyer Debra Carpentier. Their roles in Courtroom 
303 are less adversarial than they would be in traditional criminal court.

"The approach is the movement of the individual towards a treatment 
recovery goal as opposed to a keep-him-out-of-jail goal, which is 
obviously a very different perspective," Carpentier said.

"But as I keep saying to everyone, it is not a get-out-of-jailfree 
pass. It's the hard way, not the easy way. And they have to be 
committed to their recovery."

Normally when dealing with an accused, a prosecutor, like the judge, 
only "sees this snapshot, and you don't really know what happens to 
them," Knowlan added.

"This is very different in that you follow an accused through the 
system for months, even years," she said.

People qualify for the program only if their crimes are committed as 
a result of addiction and are non-violent.

Most charges are drug trafficking, though addicts also often get 
charged for theft and possession of stolen property, Knowlan said.

As proceedings begin, Knowlan points to a white board with "allstar" 
written at the top. On it are the names of those who have had drug-free tests.

Dhillon congratulates them. Their names go into a draw for a $20 gift 
card for Safeway or London Drugs.

Before Dodie graduated from drug treatment court in January, she was 
a regular all-star.

"Being so financially limited and with children, it was kind of 
incentive to get on that all-star list," Dodie said in an interview.

She was facing 12 charges when her lawyer suggested she try to get 
into the program.

She was ready for change. Her children were in ministry care. She 
wanted them back. She also found out she was pregnant - another 
motivation for success.

Halfway through the program, her baby was born. A court team member 
knitted her a baby blanket. Knowlan passed along some of her 
toddler's baby clothes.

She said the resources she was able to access allowed her to deal 
with her addiction and the underlying mental health issues that led 
her to criminality. She now has her kids back. She is trying to get 
into Vancouver Community College to become an addictions counsellor.

"As of right now, I haven't engaged in anything as far as the 
criminality for close to two years and I've been clean for over two 
years," she said proudly.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom