GEORGETOWN, Guyana, October 23, 2019 (CMC) – Guyana has launched its first-ever Drug Treatment Court, with the government saying it will be contributing to the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of non-violent drug offenders suffering from drug addiction.
The Court, which is located in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court, will permit easier access to resources and personnel, including stakeholders, such as the police, social services, health and drug treatment providers to facilitate the efficient operation of the court.
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, said the facility is a step in the right direction.
“Some of the key interventions in the drug treatment plan are educational sessions, one-on-one sessions, group counselling, drug testing, treatment recovery plans, re-integration post-graduation plans,” Justice Cummings-Edwards mentioned.
She explained that after a comprehensive assessment by a team of officials, the successful participant’s case will be disposed of, by the magistrate.
“The Drug Treatment Court then, is seen as an intervention, rather than a sentence. It is a holistic approach by the courts, social services, the police, defence counsel, medical services, laboratories and everyone working together, to help the offender,” she added.
The Director of the National Anti-Narcotics Agency, retired Major General Michael Atherly, said the Drug Treatment Court was the “strongest possible evidence of the determination of all national and international stakeholder agencies, not just to fight the menace of drugs, but also to fight together to achieve progress”.
He described the drug problem as a serious threat to public health, safety and the wellbeing of nations, saying “it undermines the national security and sovereignty of states, as well their economic and social stability”.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, said through the collaborative effort of the judiciary, the National Anti-Narcotics Agency, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Commission Control, justice will not only be done, but be seen to be done.
“Through their collaborative efforts, we will be contributing to the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of non-violent drug offenders, suffering from drug addiction. Whilst it is the government’s constitutional responsibility to protect its citizens, through initiatives for the effective reduction of crime, it is also their social responsibility to protect disadvantaged persons and create opportunities for all persons to live productive lives, free from stigma and discrimination,” Williams said.
He added that the Drug Treatment Court integrates the public health and criminal justice system, to curb the multi-dimensional drug issues Guyana faces.
“It provides the offender with a more viable option, which not only benefits him or her, but for society as a whole. The court takes a social approach, which promotes public safety, reducing the occurrence of drug-related offences, recidivism, substance abuse, prison overcrowding and the overall cost to the state, which may be diverted to other social programs,” he elaborated.
He said that the Court will be a catalyst for other similar courts, regionally, noting the drafted amendment to the Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Control Act pending Bill, aimed at reducing overcrowding in the prisons by removing custodial sentences for possession of fewer than 30 grams of marijuana, implementing monetary fines, instead.
Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan, noting the fact that records indicate that one-fifth of the prison population has been incarcerated as a result of drug possession, said that an alternative had to be found.
“An additional reason that compelled movement away from incarceration, was the high cost to maintain inmates.” The Minister further expressed the hope that the Drug Treatment Court brings the successes and rehabilitation, it is intended to do, as he thanked stakeholders for making it possible.
OAS Representative, Ambassador Jean Ricot Dormeus, described the launch of the Court as “the day of new beginnings”.
“We are launching the Drug Treatment Court to bring hope to many victims of drug abuse and numerous families in Guyana. We are culminating a painstaking process of regional cooperation, training and coordinating. We are giving birth to a new structure that will contribute to optimise the distribution of justice and improve peace and security in our society,” the OAS Representative said.