Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Swan pushes to keep drug court

Federal funding for program ends today

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OTTAWA -- Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan is lobbying Ottawa to renew funding for the provincial drug court he says is one of the most successful programs in the justice system.

The Winnipeg Drug Treatment Court, one of eight such courts in Canada, launched in 2006 but federal funding ran out today.

Swan was in Ottawa last week and he raised the issue with federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

"The drug-treatment courts in Western Canada have had tremendous results," said Swan.

More than 50 people have graduated successfully from the drug court since 2006, and only 13.5 per cent of them have gone on to commit another offence.

"If we could get those results elsewhere in the criminal justice system, the question would be which beds are we going to close," Swan said.

Provincial statistics show in 2011, 71 per cent of adults released from provincial jails and 90 per cent of youth released from a provincial youth centre are charged with a new crime within two years.

The drug court allows people who are addicted to drugs and are charged with non-violent or drug-related offences an opportunity to plead guilty to their crime in exchange for treatment.

The offender enters a 12- to 18-month treatment program, must appear back in court regularly, undergo periodic and random drug testing, undergo counselling and attend other services such as job training or placement programs.

If an offender completes the treatment plan, and maintains drug abstinence, the crown attorney will either withdraw the charges or recommend a non-custodial sentence, depending on the severity of the original crime.

The program is voluntary and offenders must be accepted into the program by the crown attorney.

Julie Di Mambro, press secretary for Nicholson, would not say Thursday what will come of federal funding for drug courts.

"The details of the meeting remain private," Di Mambro said of Swan's visit with Nicholson March 25.

"Further details will be provided in due course."

A provincial official said the province expects Ottawa to continue funding but it is not known to what extent.

Swan said he'd like to see it not only continue, but expand to western and northern Manitoba. Currently, it can only be offered in Winnipeg because offenders need to have regular drug testing.

The drug court budget in 2012-13 was a little over $1 million, of which Ottawa contributed $516,100.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2013 A7

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