Drug Treatment Court‘It changes your life. For anyone that needs a second chance, all round, it’s great.’

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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The Drug Treatment Court is a branch of the District Court that works directly with people with drug addiction problems through education and support programmes. Offering an alternative to custody, the court is different to regular District Courts, as it is a voluntary programme for people who have been found guilty or have pleaded guilty in the District Court to a drug offence of some kind.

Reporting for Today with Sean O’Rourke, Evelyn O’Rourke visited the court where she spoke to Judge John Coughlan and some of the participants in the court’s programmes. Amongst those participants was one woman who has benefited hugely from the court’s innovative and multi-layered approach.

“It gives me structure because I haven’t robbed in the last four months. That is very good. I am actually going from the drug courts to a course that we do. The course is brilliant, it gives me more structure.”

Ever since Evelyn’s interviewee has been attending the Drug Treatment Court, her life has stabilised. And much of this involves what seems to be a personal approach from the judge himself.

“It’s totally different. He goes through your files, he will tell you straight up, this is what you do,” she said. “I used to be a little bit stoned, from smoking weed….. Now that I have been up in the drug courts, he has even said to me himself,’ you look like you haven’t been under the influence. .. from what I can see here, you have been doing well.’”

“I have noticed that it keeps me grounded. Meeting new people, it just changes your life. For anyone that needs a second chance, all round, it’s great.”

The man she was referring to was, of course, Judge John Coughlan, who has been the main judge at the court for the last year. Evelyn met Judge Coughlan on what was his last day there before he moved to Dundalk court. He explained how the approach of the court is to work with people whose behaviour, although criminal, is as a result of trying to feed a habit.

The court offers an alternative to custody which involves participants working with a team that includes a liaison nurse, an education coordinator, a probation officer, court coordinator and court gardaí, who work behind the scenes with each individual.

The benefits are clear and Judge John Coughlan expressed happiness that the numbers participating had increased over his tenure. The longer a participant sticks with the programme, the better the rewards. For instance, if the participant does well, in some instances, the charges may even be struck out. This is particularly significant in cases where participants might want to travel abroad. Also, participants can obtain FETAC educational qualifications, which can help in applying for jobs.

Judge John Coughlan has said his participation in the Drug Treatment Court has been an enlightening process for him and he reminded Evelyn that the idea actually originated in the United States. In Ireland, Chief Justice Susan Denham was as early advocate of the approach and now, Judge Rosemary Horgan, President of the District Court, is a firm supporter.

To listen to Evelyn’s full report, click here.

Image Credit: Getty Images

© The Listener 2017

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