As seven people graduated from the Drug Rehabilitation Court last week, Magistrate Valdis Foldats admitted he was surprised by the effort and number of hours the graduates had put in.
During the information graduation ceremony on Thursday, the magistrate explained that he had decided to examine one graduate’s file, picked at random, to see how much work it took to graduate. “It knocked my socks off,” he said. As well as 25 court appearances, 24 probation meetings and 200 days of wearing an electronic monitor, the individual had to make three phone calls per week for nine months to see if he had been selected to come in for a drug test. He also had to undergo 30 tests outside of drug court, 12 tests in drug court, and 76 counselling sessions, including 63 group and 13 individual.
“Those are the numbers needed for success,” he said.
Those numbers showed the hard work one particular person had done, evidence that drug court is no easy option, he said.
“Each graduate has the same or greater numbers. Each one of you is remarkable. My admiration for you just goes off the charts,” the magistrate acknowledged.
The graduation was attended by participants in various stages of the drug court program, guests, counselors and probation officers. Also present was Chief Magistrate Nova Hall, who co-chaired the original committee to get the drug court protocols established and finally put into law in 2006.
The chief magistrate, who still takes a turn at presiding in drug court, congratulated the graduates and presented a gift of appreciation to drug court coordinator Katrina Watler.
She said, “If I could put a plea to government, it is for more funding to be made available to our team members. The judiciary fully supports the Counselling Services and the Department of Community Rehabilitation being granted more funding so that they can continue to offer their services and extend them to the drug court.”
Her comment came after the news that one probation officer, who had worked with the drug court, was now assigned to other duties because of staff shortages. The result is that there is just one probation officer left to deal with all drug court participants – 36 after the graduates’ departure.
Magistrate Foldats agreed, saying it was shameful that there was just one probation officer and there was a similar problem with other members of the drug court team: “We’ve had difficulty getting individual counseling in because we don’t have enough counselors,” he pointed out.
The drug court team includes not only counselors and probation officers but also a Crown counsel, a defense counsel (usually attorney John Furniss) and a representative from Caribbean Haven, the residential treatment facility. Partners include a halfway house, the National Workforce Development Agency and the Department of Children and Family Services.
All are involved in supporting each drug court participant as he or she works toward sobriety, stable housing and employment.
As Magistrate Foldats noted in his comments about the graduates individually, the paths toward these goals differed widely. Their case files showed that drug addiction crosses all ages, genders and economic strata, he said.
But, “Each of you took the first step of accepting responsibility for what you did, and saying ‘Guilty’ in court. You wanted to correct the situation,” he continued.
Court appearances included remembering to come, getting transportation, arranging with an employer to get time off, waiting for the drug court team to finish its pre-court meeting, he pointed out. The random protocol meant getting access to a phone three times per week to call in, then showing up to be tested if selected. The tests themselves were “invasions of your personal space. It’s embarrassing because you’re observed,” he agreed.
Getting to court, counseling and group meetings involved not only transportation issues but sometimes having to arrange with family members for child care, the magistrate noted. Once in a meeting, “It’s a huge step to talk about things you probably never talked about before.”
Informal statistics kept by the Cayman Compass show that 85 men and 15 women have graduated since March 2009 – 18 months after the drug court’s official start, following the passage of necessary legislation. Of that total, 24 have returned to court, but their re-offending was not always drug-related. Several people have been allowed to repeat the program, but they are not counted as new graduates.