04/23/2014 10:23 EDT | Updated 06/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia gives addicts a chance to get clean if they land in court

KENTVILLE, N.S. - Nova Scotia is allowing some judges to use new sentencing options to help addicts who commit crimes get treatment.

The government says the pilot project it is introducing in Kentville is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada and courts there should begin hearing cases using the new program in May.

Those charged with an offence in Kings County can be referred to a court-monitored drug treatment program by their lawyer, the Crown, police, probation officers and community treatment partners.

Offenders can also refer themselves.

The government says to be eligible for the program, someone charged with a crime must plead guilty to the offence and be in a treatment program before they return to court for sentencing.

The court then monitors their progress in the program and to graduate from it, participants must be drug-free for at least three months and be involved in their community.

They cannot complete the program if they are charged with any new offences.

Justice Minister Lena Diab says the program is aimed at addressing what causes some people to commit crimes.

"People with drug addictions often turn to crime to maintain their habits," she said in a news release Wednesday. "With treatment and support, many can turn their lives around, and that helps all of us in the long run."

The government says it will measure the pilot program to determine if it helps prevent people from re-offending and reduces crime.