Visitors hail magistrate’s interaction, community involvement
The sixth graduation ceremony for the Drug Rehabilitation Court attracted a full gallery of relatives and friends cheering the graduates, the court team that helped them reach this milestone, and visitors from Overseas Territories who wanted to know more.
Coordinated by Steve Fradley through the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Miami, the group was in Grand Cayman late last month to observe what he called “the whole spectrum of the administration of justice” and see if there were any programmes that could work in their territories.
Magistrate Tamia Richards, from British Virgin Islands, said her jurisdiction does drug testing, as Cayman does, for offenders who enter a rehab programme, “but we don’t have the same level of interaction from the bench.” She was referring to Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale, who consults with the drug court team and presides at court sessions in which participants are expected to report any back-sliding and listen to evaluations of their progress in group meetings and counselling sessions.
In presenting trophies to the 11 graduates, the chief magistrate had a personal message for each one, congratulating them on the challenges they had faced and overcome.
Ms Richards also admired the involvement of various government agencies and private enterprises in Cayman’s programme.
Jocelyn Johnson, chief probation officer in Anguilla, said her jurisdiction runs group programmes for drug offenders, “but not to the level of the Cayman Islands.”
Ian Sargeant, prison superintendent in Turks and Caicos, said it was clear Cayman has made good progress with alternative sentencing programmes and problem-solving courts.
The visitors, including Sgt. Carl Mason of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, agreed that all of the territories are examining ways to deal with offenders that are alternatives to prison. They wanted to identify best practices and not waste time re-inventing the wheel.
Mr. Fradley, prison reform coordinator for the Overseas Territories, said it was important “not to do something because it sounds like a new idea, but because you have evidence it works.”
The graduation ceremony began with remarks by the chief magistrate, who said there is still a public perception the drug court is an easy option.
“But it’s rigorous. For the first time in your lives you have been asked to confront your thinking, your rationalisation of behaviour that has caused harm to yourself and your families,” she told the graduates and court participants who are in earlier phases of the programme. “It is through the sharing of experiences and confrontation by our peers that we learn.”
Not everyone who applies to the programme is accepted and not everyone who is accepted succeeds.
“Some say, ‘Just sentence me’ because the process of confronting one’s self is so difficult,” the chief magistrate said.
Drug court coordinator Catherine Guilbard presented statistics illustrating that fact. Since its formal inception, in October 2007, after the legislature established it by law, the court has had 350 applicants. Of those, 50 per cent were admitted and, to date, 55 men and women have graduated. “You cannot complete the programme in less than 12 months,” she said.
The recidivism rate in US drug courts is just more than 20 per cent, Ms Guilbard said, while the local figure to date is 14 per cent.
It may turn out to be not even that high, she said later, because two of the recidivists have applied to take part in the programme again and have been accepted.
One of the requirements for graduation is employment or enrolment in a course of study. “We have a number of employees who have embraced the idea of the Drug Rehab Court and have seen the value of employing our graduates because they know we will continue to be a resource for them,” Ms Guilbard said.
Every graduate is a person who is not in prison, the chief magistrate said; every graduate is a person united with family and contributing to the community.
Guest speaker was a 2010 graduate of the programme. He thanked everyone on the drug court team who had helped him achieve a huge milestone. After two years, seven months, three weeks and six days of sobriety, he was the owner of his own business, he said to much applause.
“We are people in the grip of a continuing disease. We have arrested it … We have to abstain to continue recovery,” he told the graduates. Their success in completing the programme had been a tremendous achievement, so his final message was, “Allow your families, friends and loved ones to appreciate you for the great person you are.”
He presented gift certificates to all graduates after they received their trophies and certificates from the chief magistrate. Digicel representative Rob Moorhead presented phones, congratulating the graduates and their families.
Andrea Bryan of Rotary Club Sunrise and Sebastien Guilbard of Rotary Cub Grand Cayman were recognised for their group’s sponsorships of graduation trophies and incentive awards presented to drug court participants as they progress through programme phases.
Other drug court partners present were Jean Solomon from the Department of Employment Relations, who helps with job searches, and Frank Volinsky from the Hope for Today Foundation, which runs halfway houses.
The drug court team itself is comprised of probation officers Maxine Anglin and Judye Mobley; counsellors Eva Appleyard and Suzanne Clements; Crown Counsel Marilyn Brandt, Kenneth Ferguson and Jenesha Simpson; defence attorney John Furniss; magistrates Nova Hall and Valdis Foldats; Lynn Wood, programme coordinator at Caribbean Haven Residential Centre; and Katrina Watler, court officer.
The chief magistrate joked that Mitch Levy, who works as marshall in all of the courts, was the backbone of the drug rehab court because he conducts the drug tests for all of the male participants. Ms Watler supervises the women.