Calgary

'It gave me back my life': Calgary Drug Treatment Court shows low recidivism rates, cost savings

A new study released by the Calgary Drug Treatment Court shows the success of its graduates, measured in extremely low recidivism rates and resulting in millions of dollars saved in would-be stolen goods, time spent incarcerated and police interactions. 

76% of grads had no new substantive convictions after graduation

Alicia Myles has her daughter back after graduating from the Calgary Drug Treatment Court and beating her addiction. (Alicia Myles)

By the time Alicia Myles found herself in a truck being chased by police in Medicine Hat, she was deep into her addiction, where nothing mattered besides the drugs. 

It had all started with cocaine to numb feelings of isolation and the pain of postpartum depression — the spiral ended with drug trafficking charges for selling heroin and crystal meth.

"Nothing else matters; day-to-day life doesn't matter anymore once that addiction kicks in," said Myles, 32. "You will do anything to get those drugs."

Myles is a graduate of the Calgary Drug Treatment Court (CDTC). Since completing the intensive, minimum one-year program, she's rebuilt her life and kicked her addiction. Myles has never been charged with another crime. 

A new study released by the court shows the success of its graduates, measured in extremely low recidivism rates and resulting in millions of dollars saved in would-be stolen goods, time spent incarcerated and police interactions. 

Alicia Myles completed Calgary's Drug Treatment Program last year after facing drug-related offences. She has been sober now for two years after spiralling through addiction. The photo of Myles on the left is when she was deep into her addiction and on the right is a more current, sober version of the 32-year-old. (Alicia Myles)

Looking into the post-graduate life of 87 participants over the past 11 years, this is the largest study done since the program began in 2007.

The annual cost of putting a participant in the Calgary Drug Treatment Court program is $27,000 per year, but the savings are in the millions. 

The study released this summer shows 76 per cent of graduates had no new substantive convictions after graduation. About 67 per cent faced no new charges at all. 

Costs savings are also compelling with more than $15 million saved annually in the cost of stolen goods as well as the avoidance of incarceration and policing costs.

"As always, the impact on people's lives continues to be the most exciting for all of us," said program CEO Arla Liska. 

'Rock bottom'

Before being admitted to the program, graduates had a total of 2,803 convictions. Afterward, just 279 convictions.

Myles was the perfect candidate for the Calgary Drug Treatment Court. She'd never been tangled up in the justice system, and had never been in trouble with police. 

Plus, Myles had a huge motivator to get clean and stay out of trouble: her daughter, born in 2016, was living with Myles's parents and she was desperate to get her family back. 

"I wanted it so badly," said Myles.

"Once you want it and you hit that rock bottom, it's either death or jail. I knew I had to make a change."

'Rough days and raw emotions'

After 90 days at detox facility, Myles was formally accepted into the program in August 2018.

With a minimum one-year participation, those in the program have to make weekly court appearances, submit to random drug tests and are required to attend other addictions programs. They must also volunteer to give back to the community they've harmed.

The program admits participants whose crimes are committed to fund their addictions and offers program participants an alternative to prison. 

Many are also in counselling so they can address the issues, often trauma, which have led them into addictions in the first place.

"This can be the most painful part for our participants," said Assistant Chief Judge Joanne Durant, one of the judges who presides over the court. 

"The CDTC program is hard, I have very frequently been told by participants that it would have been easier for them to have 'done the time.'"

'It gave me back my life'

Durant says there are plenty of "rough days" and "raw emotions."

Participants are not only at a high risk to reoffend, they also have high needs. Nearly 80 per cent are homeless or living in transitional housing.

"I'm not sure if everyone appreciates how much courage that takes. It's much easier to avoid what led them to addiction and continue to just 'numb' everything so they don't have to feel anything than it is to take on such an intense program."

Between 2016 and 2019, just over 51 per cent of those admitted to the program graduated. Myles was one of them.

She says the people running the court program taught her she was worthy of a second chance. 

"They're the rule makers, the law, but they are cheering for you so much you don't want to let them down," she said.

On Aug. 10, 2020, Myles celebrated being sober for two years. And her daughter now lives with her again.

"It gave me back my life, it gave me back my daughter, it gave me back my family," said Myles. 

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

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