Drug court in city could keep addicts out of 'criminal college': AIDS Saskatoon

A coalition of more than 30 advocacy groups has released part of a plan prepared by a working group looking at the crystal meth crisis in the city. The group recommended 24 strategic actions to address the issue, including a recommendation to establish a drug court in Saskatoon.

Lots of work still needs to be done before project is a certainty in Saskatoon, justice minister says

Jason Mercredi, the executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, at the needle exchange office on 33rd Street. He says drug courts will keep addicts out of prison and get them the support they need, as he feels prisons produce more hardened criminals. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

A drug court in Saskatoon would help people with addictions get access to support and keep them out of prison, say officials with AIDS Saskatoon.

Last week, the Safe Community Action Alliance (SCAA) — a coalition of more than 30 advocacy groups — released part of a plan prepared by a working group looking at the crystal meth crisis in the city.

The group compiled a list of 24 strategic actions to address the issue, and released four of those last week — including a call for the formation of a drug court in the city.

A drug court would essentially offer those dealing with an addiction an alternative to prison if they're willing to take advantage of court-mandated help and support.

"We know all prison does is harden criminals.… Basically, it's going to criminal college," said AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi.

"So having anything that can divert people away from prisons and into support, including treatment, is preferable."

AIDS Saskatoon is one of dozens of groups who are part of the SCAA. The coalition also includes the Friendship Inn, the Salvation Army and the Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. 

'People have gotten ahead of themselves': minister

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said a Saskatoon drug court is an option the government is examining closely, as such courts been successful in other jurisdictions, like Regina and Moose Jaw.

However, the introduction of a drug court in Saskatoon is not yet a certainty.

"I think people have gotten ahead of themselves as to where the process is," he said. "It's a process that's underway. We have to go through the process before we commit [to] a timeline, how it's going to work, and how it's going to roll out."

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said the province is looking at the possibility of bringing a drug court to Saskatoon, but says much more work has to be done before the project is a certainty. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

Morgan said it's something the province wants for Saskatoon, but noted his government wants to make sure it's done right. 

The drug court would increase the justice system's capacity, he said, but the government isn't looking at the issue only from a court-efficiency standpoint.

"I'm focusing on whether it's the right thing that we can do to provide supports to addicts and their families," he said.

While a cost estimate wasn't available, Morgan said the drug court in Regina costs several hundred thousand dollars to run annually.


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