The Bermuda Sun, 16th September 1998
By Claudia D'Souza
LAST week's unveiling of a $1.5 million Drug Court initiative emphasized its role in rehabilitating drug users. But it will also help eliminate a significant problem faced by many Bermudians with drug convictions: being put on the U.S. Immigration's "Stop List".
National Drug Commission chief executive Dr. Derrick Binns says this isn't the main purpose of the Drug Court. But he said it's easy to see how a person can feel "imprisoned" on the island -- and easy to see how they may subsequently respond.
In the works for over a year, the Drug Court concept originated with a Washington University School of Public Affairs team who spent six months studying the Bermuda legal system and consulting with the major local players this past year.
Bermuda's future Drug Court, the end result of the team's recommendations, is a special voluntary programme offering detoxification, treatment, supervision, educational and vocational opportunities to non-violent, drug using offenders. Dr. Binns explained it may very well wipe the slate clean for minor offenders with no prior convictions, giving them the freedom to leave Bermuda for U.S. destinations at will.
As identified in the 1991 report, "A Proposal for a National Drug Strategy for Bermuda," one of the most damaging aspects of a criminal record for Bermudians is the U.S. immigration law which prohibits those with criminal records, particularly drug offenses, to enter the U.S.
With Bermuda's location and small size in mind, travel to the U.S. and other countries is desired by many, and "Stop Lists" i.e. lists of Bermudian offenders posted at the immigration gateways to the U.S. and other countries have a "significant" cost to the social fabric of Bermudian society.
Reluctant to discuss the negative ramifications of the Stop List, Dr. Binns said: "The Drug Court may prevent persons not already on the lists who may get on," he said. "They may avoid that through Drug Court. For us the real issue is what the real costs of criminal activity is to society. Much of it is to support a drug habit. There are other positive spin-offs of Drug Court, certainly, and I'm all in favour of it, but the main focus is to decrease criminal activity and its impact on the community and tourists."
The Drug Court concept is far from new. Last week, NDC chair, Mansfield (Jimmy) Brock, explained they were invented by judges in the United States frustrated by the amount of recidivism when the traditional approach of imposing fines and incarceration on offenders was used.
Bermuda's court will be based on a Pensacola, Florida model, where, following a one-year programme, over 60 per cent of clients successfully broke their drug habit and went on to live, crime-free, productive lives.
The "cognitive treatment programme" acknowledges that different people need different individualized approaches, especially for those who are suffering from more than one problem -- such as those diagnosed with both drug addiction and psychological problems -- and may need overseas treatment.
Although Drug Court will not accept its first client before early next year due to the required legislative changes and on-going planning, Dr. Binns said its implementation timeline is ambitious.
"We would like to follow the Pensacola model closely. The magistrates court will play a major role in determining who's eligible (along with defense lawyers and the police) and in the supervision of treatment."
The court will also be directly involved in receiving information from the treatment providers on the client's progress such as the number and frequency of "rewards or consequences" they receive during the year.
As is the case in Pensacola, rewards include a decrease in drug testing or the number of court reports or having charges dismissed. Consequences include an increase in drug testing or even spending a few nights in prison.
"Our (implementation) committee will decide what the rewards and consequences will be. It may be the same or a variation on Pensacola," said Dr. Binns.
Clients will be treated mostly on an out-patient basis although a few may require temporary sheltered housing but this will be determined following an intense initial assessment which will determine the client's psychological, work and educational history and work skills.
The committee is now working on establishing a needs assessment centre and improving the island's currently limited detoxification facilities.
The NDC, Dr. Binns added, advocates using the sites of demolished derelict buildings for these sheltered accommodations.
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