Drug Rehab Court was ‘no easy ride’

Eight people graduated last week from Cayman’s Drug Rehabilitation Court after a process described as “a lot of work … not a quick fix … no easy ride.”

Those were the words of Magistrate Valdis Foldats, who has presided over the majority of weekly drug court sessions in recent years.

But he preferred to quote the words of the graduates themselves as they worked their way through the phases of the program.

One man had admitted he joined the drug court because, “I don’t want to go to prison.” Later, when he was asked why he should be allowed to move up a phase, he replied, “I have my pride back.”

Another man asked not to be dismissed from the court for not complying with directions from the court team of counselors and probation workers. “If I get kicked out, I’ll go back to my old ways,” he said, promising to try again to abide by court rules.

Later, this same man commented on the value he had found in relapse prevention group meetings because, “they made me realize I wasn’t the only one with problems.”

A third participant reported on personal progress after one year of successful drug screenings. “I have made amends to family and friends for the wrongs I have done to them when I was addicted,” he said. By graduation day, he had been drug-free almost two years.

Family involvement can be an important part of drug court.

One man redoubled his efforts after his wife gave birth. “A child needs a father who is drug-free,” he said.

When a woman in the program started to disconnect, it was her husband who saw the change in her and contacted her counselor. The court “did the right thing,” Mr. Foldats said. “We put her in custody. She got clean again …. She realized she needed to slow down and not try to make giant leaps.”

The court’s requirements for graduation include six months sobriety from illicit drugs, full-time employment, voluntary service or studies, stable housing, successful completion of all court-ordered treatment, and completion of all specialized probation terms.

One young man spent time at Caribbean Haven, the residential treatment center. He then settled into the community and registered for school. After a cocaine raid at his house that involved other people, he denied using the drug but tested positive. He sobered up, admitted using and apologized.

“I didn’t let the team know about things that were going on that led to my relapse. My foolish pride made me think I could do it on my own,” he said.

Getting back on track and recommitting to the program, he stayed drug-free and maintained a grade point average of 3.8.

The four phases of drug court start with evaluation and intense treatment. A typical two-week period in Phase Two involves at least one court appearance, a meeting with a probation officer, individual counseling and four “intensive outpatient sessions,” Mr. Foldats noted. In addition, the participant is required to phone the drug court coordinator three times per week to find out if he has to come to the courthouse to provide a urine specimen for testing.

One graduate who completed the program relatively quickly still had to come to court 24 times, attend 24 probation meetings, make 130 phone calls over a period of 11 months, and provide 51 samples for testing.

“I hope I don’t scare you off,” Mr. Foldats told drug court participants who are still in earlier phases. He described the program as not just a journey but an expedition: Those who make it change their lives. For seven of the latest graduates, no convictions were recorded against them and they received an absolute discharge. One was placed on probation for another 12 months.

Since the first graduation in October 2009 – about 18 months after the court’s official start – approximately 114 people have graduated. Those who drop out or are dismissed from the program return to regular criminal court for disposal of their matters.

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