PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- The first group of participants in Trinidad and Tobago’s drug treatment court (DTC) program, part of the drug treatment courts for the Americas initiative of the Organization of American States (OAS), on Thursday completed the program after meeting rigorous treatment and legal requirements.
The graduation ceremony for the group of five participants, which took place on Thursday afternoon in Port of Spain, represents the culmination of a nearly three-year effort in the development and implementation of the DTC model.
The OAS, through its Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) has worked with Trinidad and Tobago, providing technical assistance, monitoring and evaluation in order to fully understand the efficacy of the pilot program as the country and region consider expansion of the model based on positive results.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony on behalf of the OAS, the executive secretary of CICAD, Paul Simons, said, “We are changing paradigms and helping to build institutionality through the DTC program. Participating countries are promoting synergies between agencies and ministries, working to change the status quo, and exploring new ways to do justice while respecting human rights and the needs of individuals who committed offenses, but who also suffer from the disease of addiction.”
For his part, the chief justice of Trinidad and Tobago, Ivor Archie, said, “Current trends in the justice sector speak to the need for increasing levels of crime being met with intelligent and innovative responses. The DTC can be described as an innovative response, with its establishment we are reducing the harm associated with crime while combating a much deeper rooted problem – the disease of addiction. This method supports a movement away from the general punitive approach to crime to a more focused preventative and restorative strategy. We are in essence reducing the severity and incidence of crimes associated with drug abuse for offenders who, for the time being, are not violent.”
The DTC pilot program in the San Fernando area of Trinidad was launched on September 11, 2012, with the first participants admitted into the program soon after. Thursday’s graduation makes Trinidad and Tobago the first country to launch, implement, and produce graduates under the OAS program.
In introducing the concept of drug treatment courts as an alternative to incarceration for drug dependent offenders, Archie noted that the experience in the hemisphere and particularly in Jamaica had shown that the approach ultimately leads to a significant reduction in the number of repeat offenders, and a decrease in the number of people appearing before the Courts.
According to the statistics of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service arrests for drug related offences exceed 5,000 annually, with implications for backlogs in the court system, cost of incarceration, recidivism, and public health.
Efforts to establish the pilot program required a multisectoral approach and inter-agency cooperation involving various levels of the government represented on a steering committee convened by the chief justice. This committee included representatives of the judiciary, the magistracy, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the ministry of national security including the police and the National Drug Council (NDC), the ministry of justice -- the prisons service, the legal unit and the Forensic Sciences Centre, the probation department, and the ministry of health.
Throughout 2011-2014, Trinidad and Tobago has participated in information and training workshops, exchanges of good practices, and meetings on technical assistance carried out by CICAD as part of the OAS drug treatment court program for the Americas. This program also allowed judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police and probation officers, treatment providers, as well as policy makers involved in this process to observe, analyze, and study the model in various countries where DTCs are already operational.
The program has benefited from the financial support and contributions of the government of Canada through its anti-crime capacity building program (ACCBP), and the support of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and experts from Canada and the United States.