Drug Court needs cash

| 03/06/2009

(CNS): Given the fact that the illegal global drugs trade is the second biggest economic industry in the world after arms trading, there is a certain irony that drug rehabilitation projects are notoriously underfunded.  Cayman’s own drug rehabilitation court is no exception, and even though it has proved itself to be an effective tool in addressing the community’s drug problem, it does not have its own source of funding and it is at the mercy of numerous other agencies’ financial woes. With the government about to prepare the new budget for 2009/10, Catherine Chesnut, the Drug Rehabilitation Court (DRC) Co-ordinator, is hoping that the project may be given consideration for its own money.

“Drug court works,” said Chesnut, explaining that it is not a soft option but a combination of treatment and coercion that helps people to address their dependency and stop committing the crime that they’re driven to in order to fund a habit. “It is a mixture of carrot and stick that makes the court a success. Treatment alone does not necessarily work and we have proven over the last twenty years, with the exceptionally high levels of recidivism among Cayman’s prison population, that punishment alone does not work.”

Her goal is supported by the Chief Justice, who stated that according to US statistics recidivism as a result of DRCs fell by more than 50%. “Today we have nine graduates from the programme whose progress we will be monitoring,” Anthony Smellie said. “As the reach of Drug Courts increase globally, Cayman is proud to be amongst the leaders in the Caribbean to have a specialized drug court programme in place. There is, however, a designated level of funding needed to increase the capacity of the programme which we do not yet have.” 

Chesnut explained that the DRC is a voluntary option for non-violent offenders only who plead guilty to their crimes, and since its inception in October 2007 to the end of 2008, 116 people had applied to join the programme instead of going to jail. Of those applicants 78 were accepted and 45 people are still in the scheme with 9 having just graduated from the final stage, but some 34 did not complete the programme. However, with well over half the participants still working their way through treatment, Chesnut said this is a definite success.

When people are under the supervision of the drug court they are not committing crime or costing the tax payer money sitting in jail. Chesnut said that the police themselves have noticed a difference when known offenders have been placed under the DRC supervision because of declining crime rates, which they say always increased in the past when habitual, drug-using offenders were released from jail.

Chesnut said that a huge percentage of the people in Cayman committing crime have drug or alcohol problems and the idea is to divert those people from the criminal justice system. But while it is cheaper for offenders to be dealt with this way rather than prison, there is no direct funding yet available for the project.

She explained that to provide the necessary treatment for the offenders and to assist them with securing accommodation and work, the DRC is dependent on a number of different agencies that have their own funding problems, from the various social services department, including housing, counselling, employment and health services. If they don’t have the money the drug court can’t function, she said.

“We do have a few corporate sponsors and the money for the recent awareness campaign (the DRC’s first ever PR campaign) has come from the FCO, but the DRC has no money of its own to spend on treatment of the offenders,” said Chesnut.

She explained there were many unique things about the DRC that added to its success. Aside from the threat of returning to jail for those that do fail, she said there were also rewards. The court has recently started funding things like movie tickets or vouchers for pizza and grocery stores, but she said often the recognition clients receive when they move through the levels also has huge value.

“When called out by the judge, our clients are certainly not happy but equally when they graduate from each phase and the magistrate steps down from bench to give the people their certificate that makes them very happy,” Chesnut said.

Currently both Nova-Hall and Margaret Ramsey-Hale are the magistrates involved with the drug court and they take on a different role that they would in a regular court setting. Together with the other parties involved they form specialist individual programmes designed to meet the needs of each of the offenders that become clients of the project. Chesnut said the rehabilitation is at least one year but for some people it can take a lot longer and the cornerstone of the project is honesty.

“The nature of addiction means people will slip but we are concerned with dishonesty not for drug use,” explained Chesnut who said no one will be sent to jail for using a drug but they will if they lie about it. “They are better off coming clean rather than trying to hide it,” she added.

The four phase programme is intense and once an offender enters the DRC the department of counselling services will assess their drug dependency problems. “Once we understand the addiction we begin treatment,” Chesnut added. “We take an individual approach to each and every case and hold the hands of participants right the way through.”

Some offenders will require residential treatment which means they go to Caribbean haven. However, Chesnut noted that the women’s wing there although it was opened it is not functional. And she also noted that and there are no residential treatment facilities for juveniles with drug problems.

Where people live once they become part of the DRC is very important Chesnut explained as they cannot be treated if where they plan to stay puts them at risk. “It is incumbent onoffenders to ensure they move from the area where there problems have occurred we can’t treat people in the midst of a diseased area.”

Chesnut believes that with more investment and resources the DRC could make a significant impact on Cayman’s drug problems and the resulting crime. DRCs have been proven to work around the world and there are over 2000 in North America but Caymans DRC is one of only three in the Caribbean region. Recently President Barack Obama said: “I have been a proponent of Drug Courts since my days in Illinois, and I will continue to support these programmes as president.”

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  1. Anonymous says:


    A good first step for Cayman! 

    But, science would suggest that decriminalization is the way to go, as evidenced by research coming out of Portugal. This Western country, with a history of significant substance abuse, was the first to experiment with decriminalization (since 2001) and it has been a major breakthrough.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Dont loose heart Catherine – alot of people in our community and world wide just do not understand the sickness of a drug user and that when they are sick they cannot contribute positively to the society that they live in. You not only have to educate the drug user you have to change the whole mindset of the community.

    All of you keep up the good work – it is only when we get these people better that they can serve the society positively.

  3. Bruk says:

    Don’t we all!

  4. Rootical Messenjah says:

    Want money to help drug abusing adults become productive members of society? Very simple Ms Chestnut! Confiscation of property/cash from those arrested for drug offenses. Other jurisdictations do this. There is a law that covers this and the courts have talked about this for years now. Now all it takes is for the Police to really do some work and assist you by catching the "BIG Fish" but it seems that they can only catch the "little bwoy" on the street corner, hence feeding "the drug court" with participants and justifying the Jobs of the many that claim that they are helping the people of Cayman.

    Look at the big picture Ms Chestnut and try to create a system that works together for the good of those participating, not for those in the System that are desperately trying to justify and rationalize their jobs in Cayman by claiming that they are helping my people.