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Drug Treatment grads get second lease on life

By MIRANDA LA ROSE Monday, July 14 2014

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FROM ZEROES TO HEROES: Valedictorian Michael Forde (centre) is flanked by fellow graduates of the San Fernando Drug Treatment Court programme at the T...
FROM ZEROES TO HEROES: Valedictorian Michael Forde (centre) is flanked by fellow graduates of the San Fernando Drug Treatment Court programme at the T...

THE first batch of graduates of the San Fernando Drug Treatment Court (DTC) have been advised to appreciate and take full advantage of all they have learned from the DTC as they go forward.

“For the rest of your lives, you will see that the DTC skills and strategies that you have learnt can be applied to any, and every compulsive behaviour that threatens your self-control,” DTC Magistrate Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds said. Ramsumair-Hinds and several prominent judges addressed the five graduates on Thursday at the DTC first graduation ceremony.

The ceremony was held at the Trinidad Hilton, St Ann’s. The graduates are Bernard Jones, Darius Neptune, Kevin Ramdeen, Kassim Mohammed and Michael Forde — the Valedictorian. Forde thanked Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the DTC team for making them “clean” for the first time in many years, restoring their family lives, becoming employable, and being able to go about their business as normal people. In her remarks, Ramsumair-Hinds said “Some opportunities may not be available to you because of past mistakes,” but the DTC team had full confidence that the graduates can continue on the path to success.

“Don’t waste your time lamenting and in regretting those that are not available, but instead look at what is available to you,” she said. “Select the most desirable option and go hard after it.

“Forgive yourselves gentlemen for the dreadful past and embrace the future.” Giving a brief background to the setting up of the court, she said because of the pioneering nature of the DTC, they were all guinea pigs. While its objective was to reduce recidivist behaviour, Ramsumair-Hinds said, “as time passed and it became real, the experience has now taught me that while those goals and other similar goals are admirable, my primary objective was a simple one. It was to care.”

Nothing brought more joy to the team, she said, as when a participant had his first negative drug testing and the test continued to be negative. It was obvious from the end result, she said, that counselling, encouragement and positive motivation were more effective than punishment, criticism and condemnation.

In his remarks, Chief Justice Ivor Archie commended the beneficiaries for their “commitment to overcome a debilitating condition and adverse circumstances; courage for acknowledging their shortcomings and agreeing to tackle them head on; and strength in emphasising the emotional, mental and physical disciplines to complete what is a rigorous and valued programme prescribed by the court to address their addictions.” Current trends in justice administration, he said, speak to the need to reduce increasing levels of crime with intelligent and innovative responses.

The DTC is one of those responses, he said, while announcing that another DTC will be opened at the Tunapuna Magistrates’ Court by the end of this month.

The DTC is a movement away, he said, “from the general punitive approach to crime to a more focussed, preventative and restorative strategy.” Statistics now available, though limited, he added, demonstrate the ability of the court to reduce relapses, to decrease criminal behaviour and to increase the quality of life of the participants in terms of family relations, education and finances. International Criminal Court Judge and first chairman of the DTC Steering Committee, Justice Geoffrey Henderson in brief remarks via teleconferencing from the Hague recalled the team’s experiences who “as hardened professionals” became “mushy and moist-eyed” as each participant achieved milestone after milestone. Their milestones included relating their past experiences, returning to the bosom of their families, testing negative over and over, and thanking the system in place that helped them.

He described the current achievement of the DTC as significant for TT, the Caribbean, and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Addressing the graduates, Henderson said, “In Trinidad and Tobago, you have gone where no others have not gone before. You are change agents.”

Giving an overview of the DTC, Chairman of the Steering Committee, Justice Malcolm Holdip said that the key features of the court are regular drug testing and a judicial overview by a team headed by a magistrate. The DTC came into being, Holdip said, as a result of Archie putting in place in October 2012, the DTC Steering Committee. Assistance was also provided by the CICAD (Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission) of the Organisation of American States, Canadian High Commission and the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court in Miami-Dade, Florida, USA.

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