Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jun 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Page: A10


Every government-funded program should be so lucky as to have Julia
Carriere as an exemplar of its good work.

The 21-year-old woman was seven-months pregnant and addicted to drugs
when she was arrested for trafficking in March 2016. Getting picked up
by police turned out to be the second chance she needed and a timely
blessing for her then-unborn son Richard, now one year old.

Carriere is the latest graduate of the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court
Service, a program that delays sentencing after an offender pleads
guilty to a criminal offence related to drug addiction.

By agreeing to participate, Carriere avoided jail. She was sentenced
to one day, served Wednesday, in court.

This is no easy way out. Far from coddling criminals, the program
challenges them to turn their lives around. For at least a year,
participants must attend court weekly, access services and undergo
drug testing. Participants not pulling their weight go back behind

That hard work is paying off for Carriere, who's been in the justice
system since she was a teenager. She's now taking classes at NAIT,
learning hobbies such as piano and Latin dancing, and most
importantly, raising her son.

"It's not just about that one person's life," said program manager
Grace Froese. "That child would have likely ended up in care because
she was going to jail. Instead, that child has a mother who is getting
her education, is giving back and is raising her child.

"For the person who gets clean, there's a domino effect that happens

Carriere might be an ideal poster woman for drug court but she's far
from the only success story. Since the program started in 2005, 70 per
cent of graduates have not re-offended.

But no good deed goes unpunished. Two years ago, a reallocation of
funding from Justice Canada resulted in more than a 50-per-cent
funding cut and staff layoffs. The program's current budget is about
$367,000, including federal, provincial and private funding sources -
notably generous donations from local personal injury lawyer Elvis

Now enrolment is limited to 20 offenders at a time, down from more
than 30.

Froese provides a quick cost-benefit analysis for provincial and
federal governments talking tough on containing an opioid crisis.

If the average minimum cost of incarcerating an offender is $110,000,
the cost of jailing 20 offenders is $2.2 million annually. Restoring
the program's original budget would result in a minimum annual savings
to government of $1.6 million, Froese says. With drug court, the
justice system does what it is supposed to - turn around lives like
Julia Carriere's.

For governments fighting opioids, drug court is one economical and
effective answer.
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