Sheriff Lindsay Wood on the Glasgow Drug Court
The Glasgow Drug Court has held its first “graduation”. Sheriff Lindsay Wood explains what led up to this momentous event.
What is it?
The Glasgow Drug Court was set up, before I became involved, as a pilot along with a similar court in Fife in 2001. It was seen as a success and given ongoing support. Its aim has always been to reduce drug misuse and the offending caused by that misuse. This is done by giving sentences that are based on practical treatments.
The court does not follow the traditional set-up. The Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) imposes on offenders an obligation to be treated and tested for drug abuse and to commit to change.
A government review found that the main strengths of the court were that: it fast-tracked offenders into the courtroom; had a trained team working together to support the treatments and testing given; and had a good system of review meetings for each person.
I have sat in the court for the past 13 years. Sheriff Principal Bowen played a huge role in its establishment in the early days. Lessons were taken on board from similar such courts in the USA and Canada. Sheriffs Hugh (now Lord) Matthews and Michael O’Grady were pioneers in the work early on. Sheriff Linda Ruxton and I stepped in when they became temporary judges. Currently the court is presided over by sheriffs Daniel Scullion, Alayne Swanson and myself.
In my experience, the Drug Court is a success. There is benefit for the offenders who come to the court with a long standing drug addiction. There is benefit for the public purse, for victims and their families, for the NHS, for the prison estate and for society at large.
An 18 month DTTO which is strictly run, is a well supported period of intense rehabilitation in the community. This can change lives.
A DTTO is an Order that can be given to offenders as a court sentence and as an alternative to imprisonment. It aims to help them reduce their drug misuse and the crimes they commit because of it. Orders can be given for up to three years to people with a serious drug problem who might otherwise have been sent to prison. The offenders must agree to treatments, to testing to ensure the treatments are being followed, and to regular attendance at court for reviews.
At the very least, most offenders on a DTTO can become drug free and stop offending. Very often, the benefits are greater - their drug stigma can be replaced by real self-esteem.
It is a privilege to play a part in this process. Research shows that the sheriff’s role is key in both monitoring and supervising the progress of the Order and by engaging fully with the offender.
France is currently looking at introducing drug courts, and last year, we were visited by a French academic team. We have similarly assisted Norway, Italy, New Zealand, England, Ireland and Northern Ireland. The French team also visited drug courts in other countries, and in a detailed review, we came out top with only one mark down. This was for not having a graduation ceremony when the offender successfully completes an Order. I was not surprised by such a comment. It happens everywhere else and I have witnessed many in the United States. They work particularly well there and fit with the character and personality of the country.
Could it work in Glasgow? My colleagues and I believed so and we consulted with the Drug Court team. They were all for it. They were aware of the many good outcomes and the importance of achievement being recognised in a busy courtroom. It can have a significant and positive effect.
So, towards the end of last year, we had our first graduate, a 25-year-old who defied the odds after a difficult start and is now no longer taking heroin; no longer stealing; is at college, and involved in mentoring others.
He has a meaningful future, his family have him back and he has them.
The court was packed with others on Orders, their friends, solicitors, Drug Court workers, police officers and court staff. The case called and I commended the young man on the turnaround in his life brought about by effort and consistently good results. I praised both his excellent attitude and his humility. Unprompted, he thanked the court for the opportunity he had been given and paid tribute to all who had supported him. I then stepped down from the bench and he left the dock. We met in the middle of the court. We shook hands and I handed over a certificate of completion. This was met with spontaneous applause. I returned to the bench feeling something worthwhile had been achieved.
It worked for everyone, not least this young man, and was done with dignity and without fuss.
Graduations will now happen on a regular basis for those who satisfactorily complete a DTTO. In my view, this is appropriate recognition of significant changes in a person’s life after what can be years of despair.