Last update: 05-Dec-2013 3:57 pm
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Jailed Drug Addicts in Limbo
The only in-prison drug rehabilitation and treatment programme has been suspended and the pilot drug court project in San Fernando is ineffective, stakeholders say. The rehabilitation programme, which was conducted by New Life Ministries, was suspended in July, according to a reliable source, although an evaluation by the Monitoring and Evaluation Department at the Ministry of Justice found that it reduced the rate of recidivism by more than 50 per cent.
“Without any programme, the rate of recidivism was 60 to 80 per cent. After the programme was implemented, this number dropped to less than 30 per cent,” the source added. Hulsie Bhaggan, administrator and counsellor at New Life Ministries, confirmed the suspension. Bhaggan said the programme, which was conducted at the Eastern Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre (ECRC), Santa Rosa, Arima, started in September 2011 and treated 141 prisoners.
“We were contracted by the government to conduct the programme full-time and we had a really good success rate,” she said. “One chronic user of marijuana who was in and out of prison went through the programme and is now running a business. Others have gained employment, or have gone back to school,” Bhaggan added. Bhaggan said she was not given any indication when the programme would be restarted.
Commissioner of Prisons, Martin Martinez, confirmed the programme had been suspended but couldn’t say why. “After an evaluation of the programme by the prison executive and the Ministry of Justice, directives were given to cease the programme until further notice,” he said. Martinez said he believed the move was necessary to reassess the programme to ensure the prison got “value for money.”
Asked when the programme would be restarted, Martinez said: “ I can’t say. The work is being done by the Ministry of Justice and they would be able to give a time frame.” In response to questions via text message, Justice Minister Christlyn Moore said: “Drug treatment programmes in the prison have not stopped, but all prison programmes are being audited to assure quality to measure outcomes.”
Meanwhile, the Drug Treatment Court in San Fernando, a pilot project launched in September 2012, is ineffective and does not capture the range of criminals who are victims of drug abuse, the Sunday Guardian was told. A well-placed source explained the process at the drug court: “When people come to the court, they are given a mandate to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
“They are given a form which must be stamped at the meeting to show the court they have attended and that’s it, they stamp and go—it’s not very effective in treating addiction as a disease, so many people go into relapse.” Asked to comment on these findings, Bhaggan said a better option was to place drug users in a residential programme, since this provided a long-term solution.
However, she said, there weren’t sufficient facilities to provide this treatment nationwide. “Rehabilitation centres are under-resourced and the Government isn’t very helpful. “It costs about $120,000 per month to run New Life Ministries. We receive a subvention of $45,000 per month which we have been begging the Ministry of Health to increase for years.”
Saying New Life Ministries is always under financial burden, Bhaggan added, “Many addicts can’t afford treatment, but we can’t turn them away.” Bhaggan said the drug court did not provide a wide enough net to capture the variety of criminals involved in substance abuse, and in-prison rehabilitation had the answer. “Sixty per cent of crimes are driven by people in drug-related activities. The problem we are seeing in east Port-of-Spain is also related to substance abuse.”
In calling for prison reform programmes to be “beefed-up,” she said every prison should have a drug treatment programme. Special “half-way” houses were also needed to prevent users from relapsing when they were released from prison, she added. “These are transitional houses where a two-year programme would be conducted by professionals. Ex-prisoners would stay in, attend meetings, take random drug tests and receive the correct guidance.”
Bhaggan said two years ago, her group proposed a rehabilitation programme for the women’s prisons, but is yet to receive a reply. Proposals were also made to the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Community Development, but these “never saw the light of day,” she added. In a brief telephone interview, Court Protocol & Information Manager Jones P Madeira said the judiciary was compiling its annual report and he would be able to give information about the drug court after the process is completed.
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