Graduates in the first cohort of Barbados??? Drug Treatment Court (DTC) were encouraged to keep going as they embarked on a new journey in life ??? one that is drug free!
And, while cannabis was the drug of choice they used initially, the 11 graduates, 10 men and one woman, ranging in ages from 18 to 37, stood proudly as they were praised by some of the island???s top judicial officers for overcoming their drug addiction, during a graduation ceremony at the Supreme Court Complex recently.
Justice Pamela Beckles noted that the success of the programme underscored the point that drug dependence should be treated as a public health matter on par with the usual chronic diseases.
Noting that the first sitting of the Drug Treatment Court was held on February 11, 2014, Justice Beckles, who oversaw the court at the time, explained it was conceptualised to provide treatment alternatives to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders, diverting them from prison towards treatment and rehabilitation under judicial supervision.
???By increasing the direct supervision of offenders, coordinating public resources and expediting cases, processing treatment alternatives to incarceration can help break the cycle of criminal behaviour, drug use and imprisonment,??? the Judge reasoned.
She added the graduates who underwent the 15-month programme would each receive a non-custodial sentence and have no conviction recorded against them.
Remarking on the success of the island???s first Drug Treatment Court, Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite, said policymakers and other key stakeholders had a responsibility to treat to what caused young people to deviate to a life of criminal activity, rather than simply incarcerating them.
???This is but part of your journey. We will continue to support you; we believe in what we are doing, and we believe in you most importantly,??? he said, wishing the graduates well in their future endeavours.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson also congratulated the graduates on their achievements, noting that he knew their road was not an easy one. He told those present that he was there when the drug test results were read, when some ???fell off the wagon???, and saw that they still persevered.
???You struggled, but you persevered. I saw people doing well and they had a positive result on a drug test, but they stuck with it. Keep climbing; it will get better as you seek to recapture your life. Today is your day,??? Sir Marston encouraged.
He added that there were also plans to establish a Juvenile Drug Treatment Court in order to capture persons when they start abusing drugs, to prevent them from ???falling off the wagon??? entirely. ???We will hear more about the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court in times to come,??? he indicated.
However, there were not all success stories in the programme, as five participants failed to complete. Two participants were deemed unsuitable due to mental health issues, but continue to receive treatment at the Psychiatric Hospital, while two showed little interest in the programme by refusing to submit to drug tests or absenting themselves from court appearances.
Their matters were referred back to the original court for adjudication. The fifth participant was expelled from the programme after committing a serious offence, resulting in a custodial sentence.
The Drug Treatment Court is supported by the Barbados Government, Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) and other international agencies. Entry into the programme is done on a voluntary basis, and eligible participants are identified immediately after they are arrested and have made their first court appearance.
In selecting persons for the programme, consideration is then given to public safety and the candidates??? appropriateness for treatment. Their dependence on the use of drugs; whether they have committed non-violent offences where drug dependence is the most contributing significant factor, or if they had a history of violence, are also considered.
However, persons who commit offences where commercial gain was a primary motivation, as well as those involving serious violence and sexual offences, do not qualify for entry into the drug treatment court.
Those selected work closely with their attorneys and court officials, and must be prepared to enter a guilty plea to the charges for which they were arrested. Following this phase, participants begin attending the Drug Treatment Court every Wednesday of the month.
One of the conditions of the court is that those enrolled mustsubject themselves to random drug testing at the Forensic Sciences Centre and to counselling with Centre for Counselling Addiction Support Alternatives, a probation officer or another treatment provider as assigned.
These reports are then submitted to the DTC and discussed by the team prior to the next appearance of the participants to decide on sanctions, rewards, suspensions and discharges to be given out.
Justice Beckles explained that sanctions for not complying fully could take the form of in-court admonition, more frequent court appearances, more frequent urine screening, community service orders, essays, the revocation of bail and possible incarceration for a short period of time.
On the flip side, incentives could include in-court commendation in the form of applause, reduced court appearances, relaxed curfews, gift cards, food vouchers and early release.
To be eligible for graduation, participants are required to abstain from the use of illicit drugs. ???A participant who has successfully completed the programme will be provided with a certificate at the graduation ceremony attended by family and friends,??? Justice Beckles noted.