To combat the growing issue of drug users and criminal offences related to the abuse of drugs, Guyana is expected to have its first ever Drug Treatment Court established in two days.
According to the Supreme Court of Judicature of Guyana, a Drug Treatment Court is a specialised court for persons with substance use disorders such as drug addiction.
It is a problem solving court that seeks to address the needs of each participant in the court programme, including their drug use and the criminal behaviour associated with it.
Rather than imprisoning persons with drug offences, this court gives them the opportunity to enter long-term treatment and agree to court supervision.
Sharing knowledge about the court, the Supreme Court of Judicature of Guyana highlighted that to be eligible for Drug Treatment Court, a person must be an adult who has been charged with a minor criminal, drug, or related offence, must be likely to re-offend, and must be experiencing serious substance use disorder.
It goes on to say that persons who meet the eligibility requirements must have pleaded guilty to or been found guilty of their charge(s). Their sentences would be deferred [postponed] while they participate in the Drug Treatment Court programme.
In addition, participants who successfully complete the Drug Treatment Court programme may receive a light sentence such as a fine or community service, or have their underlying criminal charge dismissed or have no conviction recorded.
Persons are given an opportunity to voluntarily enter the court programme and undergo a four-phase treatment plan, supervised by treatment providers and a magistrate.
Participants are rewarded for maintaining their treatment plans and sanctioned for failure to meet their obligations.
Upon successful completion of the programme, there is a graduation ceremony by which time the participant will be rehabilitated and prepared for reintegration into their community where they can meaningfully contribute to society.
Moreover, if a participant fails to complete the programme, his or her case will be processed in the traditional criminal justice system.
The Supreme Court of Judicature of Guyana stressed that the Drug Treatment Court programme requires a lot of commitment from participants and dedicated case supervision from the drug treatment court team.
This may require participation for many months to help the person maintain long-term recovery strategies.
Furthermore, there will be frequent and random drug tests so as to ensure that persons stay clean. Participants must attend court frequently so they can be monitored and encouraged to make and maintain their recovery.
The programme is designed to give structure to participants’ lives and to support their recovery. It must be lamented that participants are not alone in their steps to recovery from their drug addiction.
Members of the court help participants in their progress towards recovery and hold them accountable for lapses in improvement.
Unlike traditional court, a Drug Treatment Courts take a collaborative approach to justice. The Magistrate, Prosecutor, Defense Attorney, Social Worker, Police Officer, Treatment Provider and Mental Health specialists work together with each participant to seek solutions for his or her benefit.
Guyana will now join other Caribbean countries like Jamaica, The Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados with establishing a Drug Treatment Court.
The sister countries have been effective in getting people into treatment and assisting them in remaining clean.
Further mention was made of the fact that participants who complete Drug Treatment Court programs are significantly less likely to be arrested again, compared to those who are sentenced with traditional punishments.
Drug Treatment Courts reduce the number of persons being imprisoned thereby being more cost effective. It enhances public safety by reducing crime, and most importantly, restores dignity to individuals and their families. It also benefits communities and society as a whole.
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