A Saskatoon doctor who treats people for substance abuse says there's a better way to deal with addicts committing low level crimes than sending them to jail.

Last week, an inmate at a federal prison in Prince Albert, Sask., died after being sent back to prison a week after suffering an overdose. Chris Van Camp's mother says he was in no state to be put back in general population.

Dr. Peter Butt, a family physician and an addictions consultant with the Saskatoon Health Region, said he can't comment on the specifics of that case, but said someone in that state may have been physically vulnerable, even more so because of the environment he was going back into.

But he told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning that overall, corrections services do pretty well with programming for addictions. Addictions lead people to commit crimes to get more drugs, he said, but the time spent incarcerated may have a positive effect.

Sober time spent in jail can be "a timeout, time to reflect, time to detox," he said. But where that time is spent makes a difference on what help is available.

"It depends in part however on the services that are available, and at a provincial level where people are incarcerated either on remand or for less than two years, there aren't a whole lot of services available," he said.

Diverting addicts from jail

He's an advocate for drug courts, where accused who plead guilty to low level charges are diverted to addictions treatment programs with counselling and rehabilitation. If they progress, their sentence is discharged. If not, they'll serve their sentence in jail.

He said such diversions cost less than keeping someone in jail, and result in lower repeat offending.

"The business plans and the economic analyses have been done, and it's out there," he said.

"It's much less than the cost of incarcerations so it does beg the question, why aren't we doing more of this when so much of the crime and incarceration that we have in this community is driven by drug addiction, a health problem."

He said that may have to do with the upfront costs and public perception. He said Regina has a drug court, but Saskatoon does not, though it has a mental health court.

with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning