‘I’ve been through hell with my addiction,’ one man said in court last Thursday. ‘The team has helped me get my life back.’
As he spoke, he held a star-shaped trophy and a certificate of completion, both evidence that he had graduated from Cayman’s Drug Rehabilitation Court. He was one of nine men who were the first to complete the programme, which started officially in October 2007.
The team he referred to included counsellors, probation officers, attorneys for both the Crown and Defence. They stood and applauded him, then shook his hand just as they did for the other eight graduates.
Joining the applause were relatives and friends of the graduates, police officers who had arrested them and then urged them to apply to the Drug Rehab Court, plus the forensic scientist who tested their urine for a year or more to monitor their sobriety.
Each graduate who spoke was eloquent in his own way.
‘I just want to thank everybody who had a part in saving my life,’ said one.
‘I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the help of this court and everybody,’ said another.
‘The Drug Court does work if the person wants it to work,’ a successful participant declared.
The final speaker received even warmer applause when he remarked, ‘This should have been 20 years ago.’
In fact, plans for a Drug Rehab Court began in 2000 as a recommendation from a sentencing advisory committee formed in 1998.
The main goal of the Drug Rehab Court is to get a repeat offender to break the cycle of drug use and criminal behaviour. The rationale is that, until the addiction is dealt with, the offender will continue to commit offences.
Magistrate Nova Hall presented certificates to the graduates and expressed her pride in their hard work. She was a member of the committee that worked on the bill which subsequently became the Drug Rehabilitation Court Law. She then co-chaired the Implementation Committee and now conducts the court’s Thursday sessions.
Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale, who was unable to attend the graduation ceremony, conducts the court’s Tuesday sessions.
The magistrate and the team of treatment provides meet privately before each court session to discuss the progress – of lack thereof – of each participant, who is referred to as a client.
When the court sits, the participants are present as a group to hear each other praised or chastised. Some have been sent into custody for a week – not because they used drugs, but because they lied about it. Others have been rewarded with movie tickets or pizza coupons because they met a specific goal.
The nine graduates witnessed all this as they went through the phases of the programme: assessment, treatment and maintenance, identifying their specific needs and going to group or individual counselling prescribed.
Meanwhile they were also coming to court once per week and being tested for drug consumption, until they could be rewarded by fewer court appearances and less frequent testing. They were given increased responsibility for their own treatment, including having to phone in to find out if they should report for random testing before a set deadline.
The programme’s final phase – transition – helps the client function independently in the community. To graduate, they must have maintained sobriety, have appropriate housing and be either in employment or in school or in volunteer service.
Even then, graduates are not entirely on their own. Graduation was only the first step, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie told the nine men. ‘The real challenge from now on is to not relapse, to not waste what you have achieved up until now’.
He advised that they will continue to have the support of their probation officer and, if need be, other members of the Drug Rehab court team. He revealed plant to develop a continuing care plan and asked graduates to stay in touch with those who could offer help.
‘But they cannot do the hard work for you. They will be there as your advisors and counsellors, but only you cam make the commitment to remain drug free.’
The Chief Justice said congratulatory messages had been received from Drug Rehab Courts overseas: New South Wales, Australia; Glasgow, Scotland; Toronto, Canada; Ireland and the USA. The Organisation of American States and the United Nations Demand Reduction Section had also sent goodwill messages.
The Chief Justice expressed gratitude to the public and private sector groups who assist the Drug Rehab Court. These include the government Departments of Counselling Services, Community Rehabilitation,. Employment Relations, Children and Family Services.
Rotary Club Sunrise sponsors the rewards and incentives part of the programme. Rotary Club of Grand Cayman sponsored the graduation trophies and certificates. Foster’s Food Fair provided refreshments for the celebration afterwards.