‘I knew I needed to change my life’: Drug court graduate credits program with second chance
A 21-year-old woman who was heavily pregnant when she was arrested on drug charges credits a rehabilitative program with giving her a second chance.
“As soon as I found out I was having a baby … I knew I needed to change my life,” Julia Carriere told a full courtroom Wednesday, speaking about her one-year-old son Richard. “He is my biggest inspiration.”
Carriere is the latest graduate of the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court Service, a program that delays sentencing after an offender pleads guilty to a criminal offence related to drug addiction. For at least a year, participants attend court weekly, access services and undergo regular drug testing.
Carriere entered the program in March 2016 when she was seven-months pregnant. She had been selling drugs in the community and believed she was a functioning addict, she said.
Dave Hill, assistant chief Crown prosecutor, explained that by successfully completing drug court, Carriere avoided “a significant period of custody.”
“You are amazing. Thank you for all your hard work in the program,” he told her. Carriere was sentenced to one day, served Wednesday in court.
Hill read out a lengthy list of her accomplishments, including a slew of courses on parenting, mental and physical health, relationships as well as financial literacy. She completed 117 clean drug tests, attended 266 meetings and volunteered for 51 hours in the community, he added.
However, drug court isn’t able to operate at its full capacity, said program manager Grace Froese.
“Our funding was reduced by about 50 per cent almost two years ago,” she said, explaining the current budget is about $367,000, including federal, provincial and private funding sources. “We had to lay staff off and downsize the program.”
Now enrolment is limited to 20 offenders at a time, down from more than 30.
“We are offering a long-term solution,” Froese said, pointing to Carriere as an example of the program’s success — she had been in and out of the justice system as a teenager.
“This is a girl who had become an experienced criminal,” Froese said. “She is now going to NAIT, raising her son and building her life.”
Carriere even took up new hobbies, learning piano and dedicating herself to Latin dancing.
Froese told Wednesday’s courtroom that she is immensely proud and reminded Carriere about what she said when she applied to join the program: “I need this chance and I’m not going to blow it … I don’t want to miss my kid’s first steps and first words.”
With her parents visibly emotional in court, holding their fidgeting grandson, Carriere told them she is grateful.
“You never gave up on me,” she said, crying. “I couldn’t have done this without you guys, I love you so much.”