Editorial for September 30: Drug court:
 No easy option

Sixty-five men and ten women could have gone to prison after appearing in court for criminal offenses.

The fact that they were not incarcerated has saved the Cayman Islands several million dollars, as the cost of keeping one prisoner behind bars for one year is more than $56,000.

The fact that they were not incarcerated does not mean the court system dealt with them leniently. What it does mean is that they grasped the opportunity held out to them by the Drug Rehabilitation Court.

The offenders admitted their guilt and their dependence on drugs. Their applications to the special court were accepted because their history did not include violence or drug trafficking and they met other criteria.

They attended court during a 30-day assessment period, then started individualized treatment, which could have included anger management or family counselling programs.

As they progressed, they were given more and more responsibility. They had to be on time for counselling sessions or face exclusion. They had to phone their probation officer instead of the officer chasing them down. They had to take the initiative of phoning in to see if the treatment team required a drug screening that day.

Success in the various phases of Drug Court was met with rewards such as pizza coupons, movie tickets or certificates from a book store – most of these made possible by donations from the community.

Noncompliance with the rules met with sanctions. Drug use during participation in Drug Court did not automatically lead to expulsion if the user was honest about it, but a repeat positive drug test did land more than one participant in custody for a week.
While former Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale ran an informal drug court for several years, the official start was Oct. 9, 2007, after the Drug Rehabilitation Court Law was gazetted in February, 2007.

Several magistrates since then have presided.

Chief Magistrate Nova Hall said at one graduation ceremony, “Addiction is not easily overcome and drug court is not an easy option to choose. I admire the efforts of clients and their commitments to success. The improvement in the quality of their lives, and the joy that this brings to their family and friends who freely attest to this, continues to be a humbling experience for me.”

As Mrs. Ramsay-Hale pointed out, every graduate is a person who is not in prison; every graduate is a person united with family and contributing to the community.

We will keep a cautious eye on this program, but, so far, we like what we’re seeing.