Legal Aid Alberta is playing an important role in Alberta's therapeutic courts, supporting fairness in the criminal justice system
Drug treatment courts across Alberta are literally saving lives, according to the LAA staff duty counsel lawyers who represent their clients through the therapeutic court – and to the clients themselves. “I was entrenched in a cycle of drugs and crime led by my substance abuse disorder,” said Alana Lambert, a graduate of Edmonton’s Drug Treatment Court. When she first attended the court, she recalls, “I didn’t have a lot of life left in me – they didn’t know from one week to the next if I’d be dead or alive.”
Drug treatment courts have been operating in Edmonton and Calgary since 2005 and 2007 respectively and are now also operating in Lethbridge and Fort McMurray. Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyers play a key role, representing individuals accepted into the programs. Participants are bound to an exhaustive list of rules, from frequent drug testing and curfew checks to reporting to probation officers, completing community service volunteer work, and attending detoxification and addictions treatment.
“Drug treatment court was about accountability, about learning about my behaviours, learning new tools to deal with that behaviour, being accountable to myself, recognizing my thought patterns, learning to love myself, forgiving my past,” says
In most cases, the program is working. Few participants ever return to court. Lambert is a good example. She is working as a peer mentor with the John Howard Society and a peer support worker with Alberta Health Services. She recently graduated from NorQuest College’s social work program and has applied to enter the University of Calgary’s Bachelor of Social Work degree program.
This story is featured in the Legal Aid Alberta 2022-23 Annual Report.