Drug Abuse Offenders get Second Chance


In an attempt to address the issue of drug abuse, a court to deal specifically with certain drug abuse offenders has been introduced in two locations in Kingston and in Montego Bay. The court represents a collaborative effort between the Ministries of Justice and Health and forms part of the overall Drug Court Rehabilitation Programme, which was launched in 2001. The programme operates within the legal framework of the Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act of 2001.
Although Jamaica is the first in the Caribbean to host a Drug Court, it is not unique to the island, as it exists in other countries, such as Australia and the United States of America.
“A drug court is a special court charged with the responsibility of handling cases involving drug abusing offenders, through an intensive and continuously supervised treatment and rehabilitation programme,” Marilyn Dunbar, Director of Criminal and Civil Justice, Administrative Unit at the Ministry of Justice, explains in an interview with JIS News.
She informs that the drug court is presided over by a Resident Magistrate and two Justices of the Peace (JPs), who have jurisdiction with respect to any offence triable by a Resident Magistrate’s Court.The court involves the participation of judges, prosecutors, defence counsel, a substance abuse specialist, probation officers and law enforcement personnel.
Rehabilitation covers intensive and continuous judicially supervised treatment, mandatory drug testing and the use of other rehabilitation services. There are certain requirements that must be satisfied before an offender can stand trial in the drug court. First, the person has to be charged with a relevant offence, meaning one that is triable in a Resident Magistrate’s Court. Secondly, the arresting officer must be satisfied that the person has a drug problem.
Consultant psychiatrist with the Ministry of Health and Head of the medical team administering the rehabilitation programme at the Maxfield Medical Centre, Dr. Myo Kyaw OO, explains that to be admitted to the programme, an individual should not be suffering from any mental illnesses.
“Mental illnesses like psychosis, because once they have a psychosis, they can create a disturbing dynamic in the group setting, or individual setting. Number two is that we assess the other eligibility like the family support,” Dr. OO tells JIS News. Patients are assessed based on their motivation, their level of participation in the programme, whether they are willing, whether they admit their fault, or whether they admit they have a drug problem.
“Based on those motivations, we decide whether they should be admitted or they should not be admitted for the outpatient programme,” Dr. OO continues.He explains that the major difference between a residential (in-patient programme) and an outpatient programme is that in a residential programme, the patient has to stay in that facility for a period time.
“But here, these offenders live in their respective addresses and they have to come to the health centre. So therefore, we need a person with very strong motivation and strong family support,” Dr. OO says.Participants in the programme are required to give written consent and where consent is given and that person successfully completes a drug court programme, he may be discharged either absolutely or conditionally.
Failure to complete the programme will result in sanctions. The treatment period is usually a minimum of six months and it involves regular urine testing and weekly appearances before the Drug Court. The process focuses on behaviour and persons are encouraged to be punctual and well groomed.”We also teach them the biology of the brain and how they become addicted and what are the mechanisms of resisting the temptation and the urges and what are the methodologies and skills that they need to have to resist, and we teach them the process of recovery,” Dr. OO adds.
The St. James Drug Court treatment facility is located at the Cornwall Regional Hospital and for Kingston and St. Andrew, it is located at the Maxfield Park Medical Centre.
At Maxfield Park, the treatment is available all day on Tuesday and in the morning on Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoons, Dr. OO and his client travel to the Half-Way-Tree Resident Magistrate’s Court to provide an update on his or her progress.
“So on that day, both medical team and legal team meet each other and then it is the treatment team’s duty to report back the results of the screening or interview or any progress of the client,” Dr. OO says.
“We sit down with the legal team, very friendly meeting, and we discuss individual details and we discuss the screening, the level of support, the motivation and behaviour changes and so on, and then the sanctions or recommendations already discussed and finalized. So when the actual court session starts, it only takes about 15 minutes for the judge to hand down his ruling,” he adds.
Successful completion of the programme has significant benefits, as the offence will not form part of the graduate’s criminal record, providing it is the first or second time that he has completed the programme.
“One is the behaviour change, number two is that their urine must be free, number three is that they must have insight and therefore they are ready to go back to their society drug free,” Dr. OO tells JIS News.
In the meantime, John Brown*, a participant who has been in the programme since October, says it has truly been a life-changing experience.
“It help mi fi stop drink and stop smoke, so I find my life better off and everything change, so I’m a new person now. I think it help me a lot, because I’m 40 now and I’ve been smoking since I’m 14 years old,” Mr. Brown tells JIS News.
He wants to stick with the treatment programme until he is rehabilitated, and he has some wise words for young people.
“I can tell all the youth dem out there wha smoking the weed and making trouble, if they could find somebody to introduce them to Dr. OO to help them, it would be better off for them to stop smoking, we would be a better country, less violence and everything,” he adds.
Since 2001, over 288 offenders have been referred to the Maxfield Treatment facility and over 70 per cent have been admitted.
Within the seven-year period, the programme has graduated 45 participants, despite the challenges.Dr. OO, who has been with the programme since its inception, says he is motivated to continue working to assist persons to deal with their addiction.He cites two former drug abusers who defied considerable odds and were able to graduate from the rehabilitation programme.
“I see the people change in the programme; for example, these people on the street, they live in the downtown area in a kind of abandon building, had no family support, nothing to eat. They didn’t even have the footwear to walk and they didn’t even have the bus fare, and initially I was very reluctant to admit them, because of our requirement to have family support, but then these two persons proved me wrong,” Dr. OO says.
“They walked from downtown in the rain, in the sunshine and they completed the programme and are doing very well now. So when I see these unexpected results, I think this is the best motivation I have to keep me going,” he adds. *Name changed on request.

JIS Social