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Drug court system to be expanded, says Golding

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 07, 2014    

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The ministries of justice and health have teamed to expand the drug court system into other areas of Jamaica, minister of justice, Senator Mark Golding, has said.

Golding told the Senate on Friday that, although the concept was introduced from 2001, it has not expanded beyond Kingston and Montego Bay since.

"Ganja is really a health issue, in relation to how it affects the individual, and the challenge is that it has really been a pilot for over 10 years...(but) we are expanding into two or three additional sites where it is going to be introduced," he said.

The courts were set up under the Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act of 2001, to facilitate the treatment and rehabilitation of persons who commit certain drug offences, or other offences while under the influence of drugs. The Act provides for the supervision of such persons while undergoing treatment, pursuant to a programme prescribed by the court.

However, there have been constant complaints about the limited funding for these courts since their institution, threatening the sustainability of the programme, including from Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.

There are certain requirements that must be satisfied before an offender can stand trial in the drug court. First, the person has to be charged with a relevant offence, meaning one that is triable in a Resident Magistrate's Court. Second, the arresting officer must be satisfied that the person has a drug problem.

The programme involves the participation of judges, prosecutors, defence counsel, substance abuse specialists, probation officers and law enforcement personnel, as well as equipment such as alcohol level testing kits.

But Senator Golding expressed optimism, pointing out that the Ministry of Health and the National Council on Drug Abuse are becoming more integrally involved in the programme, and the Organisation of American States will be assisting with the expansion of the project.

He was responding to questions raised during the debate in the Upper House on the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Bill, which aims to amend the rehabilitation requirements for Jamaicans convicted of minor use of ganja to have their conviction expunged from the criminal records.

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