With the support of various stakeholders, Guyana has finally set up a drug treatment court to cater for rehabilitation of drug offenders, providing them with an opportunity to fix their lives and return to the state where they can again be valuable members of their communities.
The new court, commissioned a few days ago, will feature a drug treatment team that includes magistrates, state counsels, a legal aid attorney, and a probation officer. In explaining how it works, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, related that offenders would get to choose to either do community service or enter a drug rehabilitation programme. She noted that participants first have to sign an agreement which binds them to follow certain rules, including regular attendance at the programme and submitting to random drug testing etc.
Once an offender goes to the court, and the offender pleads guilty or is found guilty by the magistrate, that offender is provided with the option to accept a custodial sentence or to enter a treatment programme which the drug court provides, as an alternative to incarceration.
It was also explained that the programme would provide treatment tailored to the needs of the participants, who would work alongside key organisations to ensure the success of the programme. Some of the key interventions would be educational sessions, one-to-one counselling, group counselling, treatment recovery plan, reintegration, post-graduation plans.
Court-supervised treatment of certain types of drug-dependent offenders as an alternative to incarceration is a concept that has proven its value across different cultures as a means of reducing crime, reducing repeat offences, reducing relapse into drug use, and reducing the prison population. Jamaica recognised this in 1999 with the passage of the Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act and the establishment of two drug treatment courts in the country, measures which have proven to be effective.
Drug dependence is partly regarded as a disease, and should be treated as such. Treatment of the disease is important, since leaving it untreated almost guarantees that the drug-dependent person would relapse into drug use. Further, not only would it result in the drug-dependent offenders re-offending, but it would certainly lead them to commit other crimes in order to feed their drug habits.
In many Caribbean territories, especially Guyana, there is a high proportion of prisoners who have been incarcerated for drug-related crimes. While it is still difficult to quantify the drugs/crime relationship, there is sufficient evidence to connect drug users to crime and lack of citizen security.
It is well known that the cost of drug abuse and related problems to our society is very significant. These costs lie in law enforcement actions against drug traffickers and street dealers. The costs to the health and welfare systems are also believed to be very high, as various studies on the subject show that drug abuse places significant additional strains on already overburdened health care systems.
Many experts have concluded that jailing offenders does not help them in any way, but rather pushes them to graduate into “bigger things”.
It should be mentioned that the heart of success of drug treatment courts is the combination of treatment with judicial supervision and oversight. Without treatment, there is no drug treatment court. And without the power of the bench, the offender’s adherence to an often lengthy course of drug treatment would probably be much harder. Drug treatment and the justice system therefore go hand in hand.
We are not saying that drug treatment courts are the magic bullet that would help all drug-dependent offenders, but that this approach certainly offers a way out of the cycle of drugs and crime. It is one sure way of addressing drug addiction and crime in our communities, as this new system would provide rehabilitative services to offenders rather than have them incarcerated, which does not help in any way.
This is certainly a step in the right direction, and we are sure that, with time, Guyana would begin to see positive results.