Judiciary launches first-ever Juvenile Drug Treatment Court
Several key stakeholders, including the Supreme Court of Judicature and UNICEF, came together on Tuesday to launch 12 Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts around the country.
The courts, which are spread out in various magisterial districts, are specifically aimed at providing a different course of action for juveniles who come into contact with the law, and have been found addicted to or abusing illegal substances.
In brief remarks at the opening ceremony at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court, Chief Justice (ag) Roxanne George-Wiltshire considered it a necessity to implement a strategy to tackle the dilemma.
“The Judiciary…considers it necessary to prepare to engage and treat with children or juveniles who come into contact with the law, and who have substance abuse disorders,” the Chief Justice noted.
She added that it is now a firm belief to have offenders placed into programmes that can directly attend to their rehabilitative process, as opposed to locking them away and forcing them to be “institutionalised”.
“As in the case of adults, a better response would be to give such children the opportunity to enter into long- term treatment programmes, and agree to court supervision. This should especially be the case for children because the best practice is that they should not be institutionalised or severely punished for minor offences,” she explained.
Delivering the keynote address, Chancellor (ag) of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards revealed that the judiciary has seen, over the last two to three years, a significant decline in juvenile offences being committed and the number of cases presented before the courts.
The chancellor opined that these reductions, coupled with the new implementation of the treatment programme will auger well for the continued decline in offences committed by juveniles across the country.
She posited that incarceration has only “compounded” the issues that juveniles face, and the programme will provide the court with an opportunity to proffer “compassionate jurisprudence” in their dealings with young offenders.
“The important factor garnered though, from the stats, is that the numbers seem to be dropping…we hope that with the rolling out of the drug treatment court and the services provided, the statistics will paint a brighter picture in terms of our youth’s involvement or conflict with the law,” she stated.
Director of the Juvenile Justice Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Joan Ann Edghill-Stuart pledged the department’s full support to the fulfilment of the new courts’ objectives.
“Today, the Juvenile Justice Department pledges its commitment to the success of the court, and we anticipate that participants upon successful completion of the treatment programme would gain the necessary tools to rebuild their lives,” she affirmed.
Meanwhile, UNICEF Representative to Guyana and Suriname, Nicholas Pron shared the organisation’s commitment to working with the relevant stakeholders for the overall betterment of children in Guyana.
“UNICEF will continue to provide support and through our fundraising and other efforts. We will seek to ensure that the principle of best interest is made tangible to all children in Guyana,” he said.
The programme will target youths under the age of 18 who are charged with minor non-criminal offences.
The court will pattern after the already established adult pilot project, which according to information from the Supreme Court, showed that successful participants were significantly less likely to be repeat offenders, compared to those sentenced with traditional forms of punishment.
The launching of the initiative also forms part of the PPP/C Government’s plan to embrace a restorative justice model.