Drug treatment courts attract regional support

Several regional and international stakeholders are in full support of establishing Drug Treatment Courts (DTCs) in the Caribbean as a workable alternative in easing the social and economic burdens of countries and reducing the backlog of cases that often clog the court system.

This was underscored during the opening ceremony of the high-level Drug Treat-ment Court training workshop in Montego Bay, Jamaica on Wednesday, according to a release from the CARICOM Secretariat at Turkeyen.

James F. Mack

The training intervention, titled “How to establish and consolidate Drug Treatment Courts in the Caribbean, a Team Effort,” was organised in collaboration with the Caribbean Community Secretariat, by the Organisa-tion of the American States (OAS), through the Inter-American Drug Abuse Con-trol Commission (CICAD) of the Secretariat for Multi-dimensional Security.

It was funded by the Government of Canada and the 9th European Develop-ment Fund.

The joint initiative forms part of the Caribbean Drug Treatment Court Project to help curb substance abuse and its social consequences in the Caribbean and reduce repeat offences among persons addicted to drugs, by developing and implementing policies that promote alternatives to imprisonment for drug dependent offenders, the release explained.

Among the speakers endorsing the initiative was Jamaica’s Chief Justice Zaila McCalla who asserted that DTCs did not only provide a second chance for persons addicted to drugs  who were determined to change their lifestyle but served to assist in the fight to reduce crime and violence and to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts.

Pointing to what she described as ‘monumental changes’ in the lives of participants of the two DTC’s in Jamaica, the Chief Justice of Jamaica made a strong call for the establishment of more DTCs in her country and for more resources to strengthen the existing ones.

Ambassador James F. Mack, Executive Secretary of CICAD and a former US Ambassador to Guyana, agreed that DTCs were one way of addressing drug addiction and crime in communities, countries and the hemisphere. And he ex-pressed his organisation’s commitment to working with at least five CARICOM and four other Latin American countries in strengthening their DTCs, conceding that while drug treatment courts were not the magic bullet that would help all drug-dependent offenders, for some, they offered a way out of the cycle of drugs and crime.

Meanwhile, Myrna Bernard, Officer in Charge of the Human and Social Development Directorate in the CARICOM Secretariat stated that the negative social and economic impact of drug-related crimes on the Community was a major cause for concern among Heads of Government.

She also expressed concern about the growing population of young people within CARICOM who were affected by substance abuse and agreed that “the paradigm shift away from routine imprisonment of drug offenders, to alternatives offered through drug courts should be considered, given the successes reported with this strategy.”

Bernard further noted that the cultural dimension should be considered in establishing drug courts and she viewed this as an opportunity for strengthening functional cooperation among member states.

Jamaica’s Chief Parlia-mentary Counsel in the Ministry of Justice Albert Edwards, who represented Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne, noted that the increasing incidence of drug abuse had caused more serious crime and social consequences in Jamaica, as abusers sought more creative ways to fund their addiction.

Those social consequences, Edwards stated, had placed a strain on Jamaica’s civil and criminal justice system.

It was in recognition of this, he added, that Jamaica had established two DTCs as well as treatment and rehabilitation programmes to complement the work of the drug courts.

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