Side event: Problem-solving strategies for drug-related offences: getting justice systems and community actors together

Organized by the Governments of the Bahamas, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission/Organization of American States, the UNODC Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section and the UNODC Justice Section.

Chaired by Adam Namm, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).

Trinidad and Tobago (Chief Magistrate): Our country has gone from being understood as a country of transhipment, to a country where consumption, drug-related offences, recidivism are serious challenges. The drug courts supervise cases of drug offenders that engage in treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Neighbourhood groups have an important role in decision-making. Engaging the community contributes to creating a conducive climate. The programme involves members of the community, also providing livelihoods. We have also established the following linkages: meeting with the members of the Chamber of Commerce to explore collaboration (incl. job opportunities, funding for resources of the court), creation of a documentary on drug treatment courts, public outreach on a national radio programme, etc. Participants in the programme are exposed to trade skills to facilitate employability, monitoring and supervision to keep people focused, literacy programmes. (…) 

Pamela Rodríguez (TASC President): How to improve collaboration between the community and justice systems? The justice system can divert many people with nonviolent charges to treatment and services in the community. Involvement with the justice system has collateral negative effects for people getting in touch with it. Every point in the justice system is a point where you can divert people. In the US, the heroin overdose crisis has focused a lot of attention of law enforcement as a point of diversion. It’s a recent example of using diversion at the very “entry point” of the justice system. TASC is not a member of the justice system or the treatment system; independent. TASC advocates for their service clients. Our goal is to partner with our clients to advocate for their treatment and divert them from the justice system. Most individuals entering the justice system have multiple and complex service needs. The TASC Model identifies and screens (re: drug problems), assesses, monitors and reports, building a network of support to support them through recovery. We are embedded with the justice system; courts, prison parole officers, etc. We ensure our clients get the care they need. Our model is a flexible one. It builds on and cooperates with very different contexts. TASC diverted 4,066 people from prosecution last year (instead attending classes); other people have received treatment, supervision, etc. We have seen a reduction in arrests, recidivism, life outcomes. We collect data and make it widely available.

Kelly Connell (Vancouver): Our programme is located in the Downtown East Side. High degree of poverty, petty crime to support acquisitive crime, substance abuse problems. Before the community court, there was a small and chronic group of offenders that were costing the system an enormous amount of money. “Million dollar men” – Numerous attendances to ER, incarceration, health services, etc. Community courts rise out of the community. It’s good because they should reflect the concerns of the community. We found the following problems before the system started: we have a high rate of release in Vancouver, people are obliged to report with the probation services; this was to start a therapeutic process. If that didn’t happen, the system fell apart. People didn’t report. An NGO started working to channel people into probation services; with great results. We asked fancy hotels for bedding, which they discarded every six months, and started a chain of supply for our clients. We started distributing a basic needs kit. Our clients receive a very small amount from the welfare services (~235 Canadian Dollars). So we partnered with a nutritional school to put together a cookbook adapted to the needs of the clients (no need for a stove, nutritionally substantial, tasty). Probation officers also have community kitchens, which sometimes double down as workshops. We also engage with prosecutors to make sure the highest amount of people are diverted. We want to avoid drug charges, which have a terrible effect on people’s livelihoods.

Valérie Lebaux (Chief, Justice Section, UNODC): An initiative that responds to CND Resolution 58/5 on the promotion of collaboration between justice and health authorities in alternatives to imprisonment in cases of minor nature. We organised a consultation responded by 50+ member states on opportunities in national legislation for treatment and care as an alternative. We had an Expert Meeting (60+). It was agreed that there is a need for institutional capacity to coordinate multiagency approaches, which are often complex (technical, policing, institutional levels). Useful to conclude an MoU between justice and health authorities on this. No diversion possible if there is no in-the-community treatment and care services; these need to be diversified. But treatment and care should also be available in prison. The Nelson Mandela Rules establish equal standards of care and continuity of care. There is a need for a well-resourced administrative structure to monitor the application. Compliant with standards on drug-dependence treatment. Need for better communication between justice and health systems. Importance to prioritise non-custodial measures.

Richard Baum (International Policy Branch Chief, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, ONDCP): First of all, we need to facilitate access to treatment. We scoped for reasons users do not access treatment. People with dependent drug use often diverted by the justice system. Hence why collaboration is needed.

Ambassador of Bahamas: Our geographical location places us in the middle of transit routes. In 2016, Citizen, Security & Justice Programme: treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. We aim to establish a drug court system to provide alternatives for incarceration. Youth as a core focus. We have rolled out a system of youth centres for the purpose.

Mexico: We implemented a programme of therapeutic justice. It started in 2014, when CONADIC signed a memorandum of understanding with the CICAD. (…) The National Criminal Execution Law and Criminal Justice for Adolescents complement a chapter on alternative justice. The Mexican model of therapeutic justice includes a legal and a health protocol and was presented last October. We organised a high-level training workshop with 220 officials from 11 Mexican states. Our perspectives to consolidate and expand the model: implementation in 5 more states, we’re working on the plan to do so, formalise a working group for the model in juveniles, evaluate and adjust as necessary according to national realities. The Congress plays an important role in harmonising health and legal systems.


Q&A: 

Gloria Lai (IDPC): How do you do triage to avoid people who use drugs but aren’t dependent entering the treatment system?

Richard Baum: Important clinical assessment. For non-dependent people, there’s counselling, education, couple-of-hours courses for people who do not need treatment.

Pamela Rodríguez: People who are not dependent go through criminal justice education. That reality check might help them not re-offend.

Q: (…)

Richard Baum: Most of the people involved in drug courts are long-time offenders. Minor offenders are diverted out of the justice system at the entry point.

Kevin Sabet: There’s a false dichotomy between the criminal justice system and public health. Programmes like drug courts show how these programmes can cooperate. Some people who get in touch with the system have long-standing issues that involve them in criminality. That needs to be addressed at the root.

Trinidad and Tobago: That is exactly the purpose of our system.

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