Drug rehab courts still long way off

-Ramsammy

Guyana supports the Drug Treatment Courts (DTCs) initiative but the concept is still a long way from becoming a reality, Minister of Health Dr Ramsammy has said.

According to Minister Ramsammy, the DTCs, which is an initiative formed by CARICOM with support from the Organization of the American States through the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Secretariat for Multi-dimensional Security, will not be a reality in most Caribbean countries any time soon.

As it stands, Jamaica is the only Caribbean nation that has already established such courts and even in that instance it is only in the form of two pilot projects. At a recent high-level regional training on the DTCs in Jamaica—it is not clear if Guyana was represented—the participants gave their support for establishing such courts in the Caribbean. They said that the courts can be a workable alternative in easing the social and economic burdens of countries and reducing the backlog of cases that often clog the court system.

Dr Ramsammy, in an invited comment, told Stabroek News that for some time now Guyana has been building a “rehabilitation programme,” without which, he said, the DTCs will not be able to function.

The rehabilitation programme the minister referred to are the various substance abuse non-residential rehab centres that have been set up at various public hospitals. He said that in some cases, mostly alcohol-related, Magistrates have referred defendants to these facilities for treatment and as a result he said the concept of the DTCs has already been in operation to a certain extent.

However, Ramsammy said for the courts to become reality there would have to be some legislative changes to empower Magistrates to refer persons for treatment. The DTCs have to be a joint initiative between the Health and Home Affairs ministries.

A report in the Jamaica Gleaner quoted the country’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Senator Dorothy Lightbourne as saying that it has two DTCs and that the CARICOM training programme was a step in the right direction. The report said in order to establish the treatment and rehabilitation programme in that country, the Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Bill had to be passed. The legislation provides a framework for the establishment of a drug court in order to facilitate the treatment and rehabilitation of persons who commit certain offences as a result of drug-abuse problems. The memorandum of understanding between the Justice and Health ministries in Jamaica stipulates specific responsibilities; it is intended for the Health Ministry to assume responsibility for the treatment component of the programme, while the Ministry of Justice would be responsible for the operation of court.

According to a release from CARICOM, the DTCs seeks 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 DTCs have been a reality in the US since 1989 and according to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) the courts have been very successful in helping to curb drug abuse.

The DEA explains that drug treatment courts are specialized community courts designed to help stop the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and related criminal activity.

Its website said that non-violent offenders who have been charged with simple possession of drugs are given the option to receive treatment instead of a jail sentence. A judge oversees each case from the beginning and traces progressions and lapses through random drug testing and monitoring attendance to treatment sessions. “Drug courts have seen rapid growth since their inception in 1989 – today there are almost 700 nationwide. Drug courts are found in communities interested in offering a more productive plan to incarceration and saving money by keeping prison populations smaller,” the DEA said.

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