Local prosecutors and judicial officials are exploring alternative measures to incarceration in the criminal justice system for drug-addicted offenders.
The officials were introduced to the programme yesterday at the opening of an awareness workshop on the Drug Treatment Court.
The Drug Treatment Court is being touted as an alternative to incarceration for drug-addicted offenders.
Among those addressing the gathering at the Felix Austin Police Training College yesterday were Director of the National Anti-Narcotic Agency, Leon Carr, Co-coordinator of Health and Human Development at the CARICOM Secretariat Beverly Reynolds , Representative of the Organization for American States,(OAS) Jean Ricot Dormeus, Director of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the US Embassy , Alexandra King Pile and Ontario High Court-based Justice Kofi Barnes.
In her remarks, Reynolds noted that a few years ago the CARICOM Secretariat had been looking into recommendations of providing alternatives for incarceration for persons addicted to using drugs.
She explained that the call was grounded in substantive evidence from research, which indicated that drug addiction is a treatable medical condition.
“Of concern then and now, are the human social and economic losses associated with simply locking away offenders whose petty crimes are often driven by drug addiction.
Over the years, this issue resulted in prison overcrowding, with persons being incarcerated for small amounts of illicit drugs and crimes linked to feeding their habit.”
Reynolds said that CARICOM has also been looking at means of addressing the issue.
The CARICOM Representative told the gathering that the Drug treatment Court has proven effective in this regard.
According to Reynolds, it is a mechanism that addresses the issue of drug offenders holistically.
Justice Barnes in his keynote address echoed similar sentiments.
He underscored the importance of looking at the overall rehabilitation of the drug offender, noting that imprisonment is one thing, but treatment is addressing the other side of the issue.
In the case of drug-addicted offenders, he said, there are two sides to a coin and often only one part of the problem is addressed by incarceration.
However, the problem with drugs does not disappear automatically and so the offender goes to prison, serves time, but returns to society to commit the same crimes to support their habit. And then it becomes a cycle.
The Canada-based Judge stressed that even though part of the efforts towards treating offenders will include social work mechanism, judicial officers are being trained in this regard.
“We do not want offenders in a repeat cycle all the time. There is a cost to families, there is a cost to society; a cost to the Justice System. Therefore, we must find a way to address the problem of these addicts without putting society at risk.”
Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, had previously outlined the dire need to address drug offenders in a court-operated rehabilitation programme.
“In our national drug master plan for 2016-2020, there is the policy that states, we have to reduce the use of incarceration, which is a punitive response for non-violent drug offenders,” Minister Ramjattan said.
“We wanted, through that policy, to provide treatment and rehabilitation, and so the establishment of a drug treatment court was identified as one such programme.”
Minister Ramjattan said that the programme will yield many benefits. “I can also see that with treatment, recidivism will fall, and not only with drug offences but with other offences, because drug users support their bad habits just for the want of getting more money so they can buy some more drugs.”
The initiative will be cost effective in the long run and forms part of the transformation needed in Guyana’s justice system, Ramjattan said.
Earlier in the year, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, Acting Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Dion Mc Calmont and Major General (Ret’d) Atherly attended meetings in Chicago and New York that explored problem-solving courts and alternatives to incarceration for drug-related offences.
There they experienced innovative models first hand, and asked questions of those directly involved in the programmes’ implementation and operation.
The initiative is a commitment made by CARICOM, the Executive Secretariat of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (ES/CICAD) and Secretariat for Multidimensional Security of the Organisation of American States (OAS).
The commitment embodies the goal of providing technical assistance to OAS member states in the implementation of alternatives to incarceration programmes.
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