Jamaica Observer / THE Probation After-Care arm of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has implemented a Substance Treatment and Referral Tool (START) programme to address increased drug abuse among youth. The initiative, which started in 2017, is being undertaken in partnership with the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) to educate juvenile offenders and minors about substance abuse and to offer treatment.
The START comes on the heels of the findings of the NCDA’s 2016 Household Drug Survey, which indicated that one in every six males and one in every 17 females admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol and using illegal drugs.
The survey also revealed that over the review period, alcohol usage and underage drinking among youngsters aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 stood at 10.1 per cent and 19.1 per cent, respectively.
Additionally, it showed that 18 years is the average age of first-time users of cannabis, with males beginning at age 16 and females, 20.
Director of the Probation After-Care Office at the DCS Janet Davey told JIS News that START is designed to encourage teens to stop abusing alcohol, drugs and prescription medications.
She notes that the drug addiction, misuse and abuse has caused severe impacts on young people and has contributed to crime at the community and national levels.
Davey says Probation After-Care officers have noticed a trend of heavy use of substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and illegal and prescription drugs among the juveniles in State care.
“To ensure that the programme works, it is introduced to all the children who enter the correctional institution. We screen to identify the teens that are heavily involved to get a clear picture of their knowledge of substance use and misuse. This is to ensure that all teens understand the dangers of drug use and to identify who needs immediate attention based on their involvement with the substance,” she explains.
The director informs that after a child has been sentenced by the court, the probation officer steps in to perform their role in assessing the youngster, regarding background and circumstances.
This assessment is used to provide social reports to the courts, recommendations for rehabilitation, reintegration methods, and for effective and appropriate sentencing of offenders who exit corrections facilities back into the community.
Davey points out that if a child does not have a drug-related issue, the educational component of START is still administered.
“There have been 21 child offenders who were assigned community-based sentences for substance-related issues islandwide, and 37 children have benefited from the START programme since inception,” she shares.
“Once the substance abuse officers from the NCDA receive referrals, they conduct further assessments to determine the nature and extent of the problem and design a treatment plan to suit juvenile offenders,” she adds.
Davey notes that a risk assessment was done recently and a few juvenile offenders were placed on the programme.
“Those [who] have been identified as heavy drug users will be the first beneficiaries of the START programme. We want to rehabilitate then reintegrate them, so we know they will, in the end, thank us for the fulsome education they will receive while in custody, because it prepares them to return to the community successfully and with high hopes of never re-engaging in substance abuse,” she states.
Davey advises that 978 children are on community-based sentencing. This includes community service, attendance centres, probation and specialised mental health care, and supervision.
Substance abuse officer at the NCDA, Denise Chin, says through the partnership with the DCS, weekly treatment services are provided to juvenile offenders and children in conflict with the law.
She explains that once per week, NCDA representatives visit juvenile correctional centers or minors under the supervision of the Probation Aftercare Office who are accompanied by their parent or guardian to access services at the organsation.
“The treatment plan depends on the client, and exercises are catered to tackle the specific problem and are based on the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is based on the concept that thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.
“Drug users’ dependence weakens the bonds of families and creates dysfunction in relationships that may manifest in conflict, escalation of violence and risk-taking behaviour,” she adds.
Chin notes that CBT is designed to help individuals deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts.
The offender is shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way they feel, and the treatment includes counselling, assignments, problem-solving practice or other components that are designed to tackle underlying problems such as anger management, behaviour modification, self-image and self-esteem, and conflict resolution.
JAMAICA: Substance abuse treatment programme to educate juvenile offenders
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