The first drug treatment court in Guyana was launched by the Supreme Court in collaboration with the Organisation of American States Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (OAS-CICAD) and the National Anti-Narcotics Agency of Guyana.
The drug treatment court will first run as a pilot project with the aim of reforming the criminal justice system and reducing social ills by providing alternatives to offenders who are drug abusers.
Members of the legal fraternity and government ministers attended the opening ceremony Monday at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court.
Chancellor of the Judiciary acting, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, delivered the feature remarks and noted that when drug abuse offenders are charged and brought to the court, once found guilty they are likely to be incarcerated.
The Chancellor explained that while in prison, the drug problem remains and when released the offender is likely to appear before the court again for a similar offence.
This is called recidivism. To prevent this from happening, the drug treatment court was formed.
According to the Chancellor treatment courts provide an intervention for persons who are living with substance abuse disorders and lead that person away from the prison on the road to recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
“On a plea of guilty or on being found guilty by the magistrate on certain specified offenses, the offender is provided with the option of custodial sentence or to enter a treatment programme which the drug court provides as an alternative to prison; participation in that treatment programme is voluntary,” the Chancellor said.
Some of the key programmes of the drug treatment plan are educational sessions, one-on-one and group counseling, treatment recovery plan and reintegration plan.
The court will also have a drug treatment team comprising of the magistrates, state counsel from the Director of Public Prosecution Chambers, defense attorneys, a legal aid attorney, a probation officer, a representative from the approved substance abuse providers, a case manager and any other person the court may direct.
“The team is tasked with conducting the initial assessment of eligible participation and to provide updated information to the court regarding the participant in the system,” the Chancellor said.
Participants in the programme will be required to sign a written agreement which will allow them to comply with conditions and terms of the programme.
The drug treatment court was established in a refurbished court room at the Magistrate Court.
Magistrates, including Chief Magistrate Ann Mclennan, were trained in the drug treatment process.
Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams noted that while it is the government’s constitutional responsibility to protect its citizens through initiatives for the effective reduction of crime it is also the government’s social responsibility to protect disadvantaged persons in society.
“The usual response offenders who have committed non-violent offenses and who are also substance abusers or drug dependent, is incarceration. In many cases this has proven not to be beneficial for the offender or society, leaving most of those persons socially and economically disadvantaged and stigmatized,” he stated.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said with the launch of the drug treatment court there should be reduction in crime, prison overcrowding and prison cost.
Ramjattan said according to statistics and surveys, drug related offenses are the leading causes of incarceration.
Jean Ricot Dormeus Representative of OAS-CICAD to Guyana said this is a significant step for the judiciary and giant leap for society and drug abuse offenders.
According to Dormeus, the benefit of establishing a drug treatment court is promoting human rights.
Major General (retired) and Director of the National Anti-Narcotics Agency, Michael Atherly, said the drug treatment court is part of the National Drug Strategy Joint Master Plan to address the drug problem in Guyana.
Drug treatment court exists in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Britain, Canada and the United States.