Drug Rehab Court has 56+ clients

Wednesday, 9 January, marked three months since the Cayman Islands Drug Rehabilitation Court officially opened.

In that time it attracted applications from 74 men and 12 women who had been in the regular Summary Courts for drug-related offences.

Of the total 86 who applied, 23 people were considered not eligible, three were having their applications processed, four decided not to continue and 56 are in various stages of the programme.

In releasing these statistics last week, Drug Rehab Court Coordinator Catherine Chesnut explained that one of the main reasons for not being eligible was the individual’s criminal history of violence.

The primary concern during the screening process is to protect the public, so people charged with offences involving violent conduct or sexual assault are not accepted into the programme.

Offences not involving violence against a person — such as burglary, theft or street-level dealing — may be considered crimes committed to feed the offender’s addiction.

The Drug Rehab Court was founded to stop criminal activity related to drug abuse, but hold the offender accountable while increasing his or her chances to get back into the community as a productive and responsible member of society.

The Court is too new for anyone to have graduated yet. But participants – referred to as clients – know what they have to look forward to: successful clients will usually receive a non-custodial sentence for their offences.

Meanwhile they have specific goals: sobriety, suitable housing, and full-time employment or schooling. The Drug Rehab Court helps them achieve these goals through early, continuous and intensive treatment supervised by a magistrate and provided by various agencies working together.

The individualised treatment programmes may involve weekly one-to-one therapy sessions, thrice-weekly group sessions, anger management and family counselling.

There are two sessions of Drug Rehab Court per week. Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale meets clients on Tuesdays; Magistrate Nova Hall meets clients on Thursdays. The number of clients at each session may vary because not everybody attends every week.

An observer in either court will see and hear things that don’t happen in the regular Summary Court. That’s because the Drug Rehabilitation Court Law, passed in 2006, provides for a system of rewards and punishments during the treatment programme.

For example, after a client has attended court for some weeks, has been to all counselling sessions and submitted to urine testing as directed, he or she may be allowed to come back to court every two or three weeks instead of weekly.

On the other hand, someone who has not kept appointments or has tried to subvert the urine-testing process may be remanded in custody for up to 14 days.

Ms Chesnut said one unexpected benefit had come from requiring clients to stay in the court room for the whole session. The original intention was that they would learn from each other’s experience by seeing the consequences of compliant and non-compliant behaviour.

Treatment providers have found that bonds are being formed that give the court almost a family atmosphere, she said.

On several occasions, clients have been applauded by their peers when they were released from court early because of good reports from their counsellors and probation officers.

Ms Chesnut said the four individuals who chose not to continue in the Drug Rehab Court were sent back to whichever Summary Court they had been in previously. Their Drug Rehab Court files are sealed.