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JIS News

In January 2010 Monica Jones (not her real name) was arrested by the police for possession of marijuana.

She had just purchased $400 worth of the drug, intent on furthering a seven-year habit. She knew that her drug use was destructive and had long wanted to stop but lacked the will and means to do it on her own.

“Plenty time mi want stop before the police even hold me…mi always a try fi stop but mi couldn’t stop on mi own, mi did need help so mi tell the judge that mi is a smoker and mi need help and she say ok, I’m going to help you,” Monica reflects.

The judge, instead of sending her to jail, ordered her to attend the Drug Treatment Court, where she finally got the treatment and rehabilitation to overcome her drug habit.

She admits that it was not smooth sailing as she even slipped up once when her urine test came back positive.

“The second time mi positive when mi shouldn’t positive cause mi did go back go smoke and the judge put mi back in custody for two nights and say when mi come to court mi mus tell the court what me decide to do. Mi tell her say mi a go try and help myself because mi see that you trying to help me, so mi try mi best no meck it happen again,” Monica tells JIS News. She kept her promise, completing the programme in little over six months.

Monica credits the programme for her changed lifestyle. She has established a support network with about four others from the treatment programme, and they have been encouraging each other, in the quest to remain drug free.

Established by the Drug Court Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in 2001, this special Court offers a treatment programme to individuals, who are believed to have committed offences whilst under the influence of drugs including alcohol, ganja, cocaine, morphine, opium and heroin.

Described by many as an avenue for change and a second shot at life, the court, through its rehabilitation and treatment services, helps individuals to become drug-free, productive citizens.

Resident Magistrate at the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate’s Court in Half-Way Tree, Stephanie Jackson-Haisley explains to JIS News that the Court is not a trial court but a “treatment court which employs the use of judicial supervision whereby participants undergo a treatment programme while being supervised by the court."

Individuals are required to attend one of the two treatment centres at Maxfield Park Health Centre in St. Andrew or Cornwall Regional Hospital, Montego Bay, St. James, where they interface weekly with counsellors and psychiatrists to obtain treatment in relation to their drug addiction. The programme may run from six months to two years depending on the level of progress by the participants.

During the treatment period, participants are also engaged in vocational studies, literacy programmes, and sessions dealing with anger management, the effects of substance abuse on the body, dispute resolution and relapse prevention.  To be admitted participants must meet certain legal and medical criteria.

The Resident Magistrate outlines that under the legal criteria, “the individual must be 17 years and over and must be charged with a relevant offence, that is, any offence that can be tried by a Resident Magistrate…so it would exclude the murderer, the person who has committed the offence of rape and more serious offences. It is geared towards the individual, who has committed a minor offence.”

Having satisfied the legal criteria, the offender is referred to the treatment team for an assessment to see if he or she meets the medical condition for admittance, in that, the individual must not be suffering from any mental incapacity that will restrict their active participation in the programme.

“Persons having psychosis or hallucinations and delusions cannot follow our counselling sessions and are not admitted to the programme,” notesConsultant Psychiatrist and Senior Medical Officer of Health at Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Myo Kyaw Oo.

Dr. Oo says that the individual must also have a genuine desire to be rehabilitated and not other motives just to get away from their sentence.

He explains that participants are expected to report to the treatment centre for individual and group counselling. The treatment period is divided into three phases with clients required to attend the centre five days per week during phase one; three days per week during phase two; and two days per week, during the third phase.

The Drug Treatment Court utilises a rewards system where clients are subjected to weekly urine tests and are rewarded if these are consistently negative for the illegal substance.

Conversely, positive urine tests will result in the court applying sanctions, which Mrs. Jackson-Haisley informs, includes imposing reporting and curfew conditions or spending a night in jail. “We find that the process of sanctioning and providing incentives has really worked, and that is really one of the hallmarks of the…judicial supervision process,” she says.

If an offender wishes to discontinue treatment, his matter will be referred back to the regular court, where he will be tried and convicted, or acquitted.

“I have seen many individuals who have been in the treatment programme,” the Resident Magistrates says, “individuals who have done well, those who have not been able to deal with the programme, individuals who have been expelled and had to be sent back to the regular court…there are those who have done remarkably well and who come back to the drug court to say how well they have been doing… they bring their certificates from HEART or whichever organisation they have been enrolled in since the treatment programme. I have seen individuals who have come back with their family members to show how well they have progressed,” she recalls.

She notes that the ultimate goal of the drug treatment court is for persons to be rehabilitated, regain their rightful place in society and become productive citizens.

“The drug court basically changes the way that people see the courts. It is totally non-adversarial in nature. It applies the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence, which is  really a concept where lawyers and judges try to look at the law in a richer, fuller way to see what therapeutic agents we can use to bring about change because when an offender enters into the drug court, it is an alternative to incarceration for him, and at the end of the day, he is assured that if he successfully completes the programme, he is not going to jail, he’s not even going to have a conviction recorded against him. In many instances, the offence is totally dispensed with,”Mrs. Jackson-Haisley states.

 “It really is the vision of all of us that a time will come when drug court will be available to all eligible citizens of this country. It will therefore mean that we would have to have a drug court in all of the parishes, for that to happen,” she expresses.

The legislation allows for the drug treatment court to be set up in all parishes across Jamaica but fiscal constraints have restricted the services to Kingston and St. Andrew, and St. James.

The drug treatment court initiative is a collaborative effort of the Court Management Services (CMS) which was created in 2008 to provide administrative support to the island’s courts; and the Ministries of Health and National Security.

For more information on the programme, persons may visit the CMS’s website at cms.gov.jm.