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This article was published 11/6/2019 (389 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Westman will be getting its own drug treatment court as early as this fall, the province announced on Monday, aiming to help people suffering with chronic and acute substance abuse break the cycle of drug use, criminal behaviour and incarceration.
The Manitoba government is providing $75,000 through the Federal Drug Treatment Court Funding Program for the pilot project, which will provide "specialized, holistic wrap-around services" to qualifying participants, said Chief Judge Margaret Wiebe.
"The whole point of the court is to get a person to the point where they are stabilized, where they are healthy — mentally and physically — where they can deal with the criminal matter and take accountability for it, have housing or an education plan in place and then move forward, graduate out of the program and become a contributing member of society," Wiebe said.
"It gives us an alternative to incarceration. … Instead of putting someone in jail without the supports and programs they may need, we’re maximizing what supports they do have."
Drug treatment courts create a partnership between courts, treatment facilities and social service agencies with the overall goal of reducing the number of crimes associated with addiction, reducing harm due to drug use and providing the participant with the tools to gain employment or educational success, positive mental and physical health, appropriate housing and improved family relationships.
Participants must plead guilty to their charges, appear in court weekly and work closely with the Westman drug treatment court team to design an effective rehabilitation plan.
Judge John Combs will oversee the court with the support of Associate Chief Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta, Wiebe said, but decisions are made in consultation with a team of experts that include the Crown, defence counsel, the program manager and the case manager.
The Westman drug treatment court will work closely with the Community Mobilization Westman Hub table, which brings social service professionals together to connect at-risk individuals or families with supports and services proactively, to ensure participants are supported.
The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba will also provide a dedicated addictions therapist to work closely with the court in providing an "intensive therapeutic service", said Jamie Tompkins, director of AFM Brandon.
"Drug treatment courts allow individuals, who become involved in the criminal justice system because of their substance use, a intensive therapeutic program to address their criminogenic needs and create accountability," Tompkins said.
"Being able to focus on making positive choices and addressing the factors that contributed to their offending behaviour is key to making positive changes."
Winnipeg has had a drug treatment program since approximately 2005, Wiebe said, and the results have been positive.
In 2015, recidivism rates for graduates of the drug treatment court program was only 13 per cent, Tompkins said, less than the rates for those who go through the traditional criminal justice system.
The rates of reoffending in 2015 for individuals on probation was 28 per cent, 32 per cent for those on conditional sentence orders and 66 per cent for those readmitted to provincial custody.
"It’s something that’s been talked about for quite some time. We’re happy that we’re able to allocate some resources to it," said Justice Minister Cliff Cullen. "The proof is in the pudding, the numbers have shown positive outcomes in Winnipeg, and it’s certainly time it came to western Manitoba."
Cullen said they were open to having conversations regarding bringing other specialized courts — such as mental health court, domestic violence court and court for individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder — to Westman, but there are no plans to do so in the foreseeable future.
From a court’s perspective, it would be nice to have a lot of these specialty courts in all kinds of areas … but we need to be mindful of the resources that we have," Wiebe said. "We have to be practical and use the resources that we have well to maximize how many people we can put into these programs."
There is a maximum number of people the court can take on due to resources, Wiebe said.
There are 22 participants currently in the Winnipeg program, she noted, adding she doesn’t think the Westman drug treatment court will surpass that.
The court is expected to begin taking referrals as of July 2 and begin sitting in the fall.
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