First graduate of Lethbridge Drug Treatment Court demonstrates effectiveness for addicts

Jacob Peddle was 12 years old when he began to fall in with the wrong crowd. 

Depressed from a young age and feeling distanced from his family, he says his teenage years of crime stemmed from the older people he was hanging out with. 

At age 16, Peddle began smoking methamphetamine and was being used for drug trafficking. 

“The guy that I would get my drugs from, he would, obviously, sell to other people. And if they didn’t pay, he would pay me an amount to go and assault them.” 

In April 2020, RCMP conducted a traffic stop on then 18-year-old Peddle in his hometown of Claresholm, Alta. He was charged with possession of methamphetamine and cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

When his time in court came, Peddle was given two options: 24 months in jail, or the new drug treatment court that was established in Lethbridge in November 2020. 

“If I had gone to jail, I know for a fact I would have relapsed.”

Committing to a life of recovery 

Peddle, now age 20, began the program in February 2021, and on Wednesday, became the first person to graduate. 

“It’s a lot of work and it is by no means a get out of jail free card,” said Peddle. “If people are going to enter the program, they need to be fully committed to living a life of recovery.” 

Peddle had already been sober for several months when he started the program, motivated to get clean by his relationship with his now-fiancée and her two children. The couple are expecting their first child in November. 

Jacob Peddle stands outside in front of a building in a button-up shirt and jeans with his arm around his pregnant fiancé, Bailey, who is wearing a black dress and white cardigan with small flower prints.
Jacob Peddle stands with his fiancée, Bailey, 16 months after he first started the Lethbridge Drug Treatment Court. Peddle is the first person to graduate from the program. (Submitted by Jacob Peddle)

The Lethbridge Drug Treatment Court offers people struggling with addiction who are charged with non-violent offences a second chance at a productive life. 

Brett Carlson, the lawyer for Legal Aid Alberta who takes on the cases that go through the treatment court, says the program does more than help just the individual. 

“We can only imagine how many offences would have been committed by a person who’s 21 years old and has just done a two year bit in jail, that hasn’t dealt with those issues and hadn’t dealt with their addiction,” explained Carlson. 

“We’d have seen him again for his lifetime, and society would have been far, far worse off.” 

Reducing crime through rehabilitation 

Carlson says that drug treatment court is more effective than jail because it aims to rehabilitate a person rather than punish them. 

“If we could solve addiction with incarceration, you would have done it decades ago, centuries ago.”

Brett Carlson is a staff lawyer with Legal Aid Alberta in Lethbridge. Legal Aid Alberta provides staff duty counsel lawyers to those going through the drug treatment court path, meaning those lawyers represent individuals as they go through the court system. (Joel Dryden/CBC)

Instead of spending time in jail, participants in the program undergo several weeks at a treatment centre and months in second-stage housing. 

“We’ll sanction people for being 10 minutes late for a drug test, so it’s not an easy program,” said Carlson. 

Peddle says there were 36 conditions that he had to abide by over the 16 months he was in the program, from more obvious rules like not using alcohol or drugs, to not being able to possess a cell phone or drive a vehicle he isn’t the registered owner of. 

Offering alternatives for addicts 

For Peddle, the most difficult part of the experience was being distanced from his support system and growing family. 

“It’s only an hour from Lethbridge to Claresholm, but that hour feels like a hundred miles.”

With the success of the program now demonstrated in its first graduate, Carlson hopes to see more drug treatment options offered throughout the province. 

“The more centres that adopt them, they’re going to see big changes,” said Carlson. 

“If a centre wants to deal with property issues in terms of property criminality, break and enters, thefts, frauds, et cetera, and you see them being committed by people who are addicts, sending them to jail is not going to solve that problem.”

The provincial government announced a $20 million, four-year investment in March 2020, including the Lethbridge program as one of five additional sites outside of Calgary and Edmonton.

View Source