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Ministry of Justice participates in training for drug treatment courts

Published:Wednesday | February 2, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Lightbourne

THE MINISTRY of Justice has partnered with a team of international donor partners who will be leading the efforts to establish and strengthen Drug Treatment Courts (DTC) in the Caribbean region, through training and other capacity-building initiatives primarily designed for the region's justice systems.

The three-day training conference, which will take place in Montego Bay, starting today, will include judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys, treatment providers, and police officers from four parishes in Jamaica.

Commenting on the upcoming training conference, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, said the number of drug-related cases in Jamaica is alarming, and chronic relapsing is being treated as a public-health matter.

"We presently have two drug courts and the corresponding treatment and rehabilitation programmes, so the training and capacity-building for the members of the judiciary in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries is a step in the right direction for our respective justice systems," said Lightbourne in a release yesterday.

In order to establish the treatment and rehabilitation programme, the minister explained that the Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act was passed. It provides a framework for the establishment of a drug court in order to facilitate the treatment and rehabilitation of persons who commit certain offences as a result of drug-abuse problems.

The memorandum of understanding between the justice and health ministries stipulates specific responsibilities; it is intended for the health ministry to assume responsibility for the treatment component of the programme, while the Ministry of Justice would be responsible for the operation of court.

Alternative to incarceration

Currently, the Drug Court is being operated as a pilot project within the Ministry of Justice, which, in addition to being responsible for the court component, also pays administrators, the treatment providers, as well as purchase equipment, office supplies and testing kits. The Ministry of Health provides medical supervision in terms of psychiatric and clinical treatment and office space.

Citing that conventional methods of fighting crime are becoming inadequate, Lightbourne said, "It is our hope that in the case of non-violent offenders who have been charged with possession of drugs, the option is given to them to receive treatment instead of incarceration."

The training sessions will be led by experienced members of DTCs from Canada, to lead future drug treatment court teams within the Caribbean. Two drug treatment court teams from Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago are also slated to participate in this event.

This event, which is being held under the theme 'Establishing and Consolidating Drug Treatment Courts in the Caribbean: A Team Effort', was organised under the umbrella of the recently launched Caribbean DTC project, an initiative coordinated by the Organisation of American States, through the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission.

The opening ceremony, which is scheduled for this afternoon, is expected to be attended by high-profile government officials, including Lightbourne, as well as members of the judiciary, including Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.