Saturday, February 13, 2010

This Is Old City Hall, Day 11

On the morning of Day 11 I sat in on Old City Hall's Drug Treatment Court panel. Justice B------ gave me materials to read the night before, to educate me about the panel's role in justice, health and rehabilitation.

The panel is comprised of ten people, including His Honour and representatives from the offices of crown, defence, duty counsel, probation, court administration and CAMH. Like in pretrial negotiations, the panel considers the facts of an individual's case, his background, and how his treatment is going. Then it negotiates what is to be done -- whether treatment is to continue or whether additional conditions are called for. Like in pretrial negotiations, the accused is not permitted to attend the panel.

Completion of a course of treatment is called "graduation". Relapse delays a participant's graduation, but relapse is anticipated and he doesn't flunk out. Good faith trumps almost everything here. For instance, it seems like just about every participant fails to show up for court, at the beginning. Some hand-holding is required. I don't think Justice K----- would have the patience to administer this kind of justice. But then, the approaches of Justice B------ and Justice K----- are like night and day.

According to the first file on the docket, the accused omitted to mention to the panel that he had separate, non-drug-related charges before the courts. He also failed to honour some of the conditions of his bail. True to the spirit and principles of the program, the panel doesn't let failure (relapse, toxic urinalysis, re-arrest) derail their work or deter them in the pursuit of their objectives. His Honour lets the first accused proceed with his program of treatment on the basis of his statement of desire and notwithstanding his actions to the contrary.

They're a happy group, the panel. Not raucous, but chatty. They remind me of missionaries, doing God's work, happy in the righteousness of their cause. One doesn't expect to meet optimists in their line of work, and it's heartening. I want to ask them whether the program has made them more or less cynical but I'm afraid to do so.

After observing for an hour, it's easy to detect the currents running through the room: sanction vs. rehabilitation, denunciation for past misbehaviour vs. encouragement for future efforts. The currents run along the expected channels. Duty counsel, defence and social workers sit on one side of the table. The crowns (provincial and federal are both here) and the probation officer sit on the other side. I wonder how many times the panel convened before that started to happen.

The crowns are pretty grim, as befits their role on the panel as representatives of the state (and tangentially the public, who arguably have an interest in seeing these offenders kept off the streets. Arguably. And I'm not arguing it).

No participant is just a drug addict. They're addicts and burglars, addicts with histories of abuse, addicts with "immigration problems" (i.e. the problem that Immigration wants them removed -- what other problem could there be?). Violent offenders are not eligible for the treatment program.

It's like detention. Some of the accused are required to write essays to His Honour asking to be admitted or re-admitted to the program, some, like A, His Honour knows well.

A wrote a two-page letter to Judge B------, committing himself to recovery. Eighteen months ago, A was a college graduate, winner of the dean's medal, and gainfully employed. Then A got laid off from his job, got addicted to crystal meth, and went off the rails. In his letter, A declares that by 2015, he will be back to his old self, back to the kind of man he was eighteen months ago. He recognizes that it is going to take five years to undo the damage he has inflicted on himself in a year and a half. That gives one pause.

I wonder how many people on the list are high at the very moment the panel is in session. The number is not zero. I feel guilty for wondering.

The panel finishes all the names just in time for lunch. Drug Treatment Court itself convenes in the afternoon, where faces are put to the names on the morning list. Everyone from the morning panel is present in the afternoon: crowns, probation officer, CAMH workers.

It's nothing like court. There is none of the tension of the adversarial system. A court worker calls a name. The party stands and addresses the court. His Honour peers over the top of his glasses and asks, "Any drug use to tell me about?" When the recovering addict answers "No", the other recovering addicts in the body of the court applaud.

Participants submit to frequent urinalysis, so His Honour knows the answer before he asks the question. Those who have been confirmed clean are called first.

Participants tell the court how they are staying clean. The answers are fairly uniform: volunteering, working, going to meetings, staying busy. One woman admits that she's having trouble staying busy enough: "I can only clean my house so much."

Watching the procession of recovering addicts/offenders put me in mind of the Spectrum of Human Achievement. I'm having a hard time explaining what I mean by that. When I try to elaborate on the idea, the words seem patronizing. Suffice it to say, irrespective of whatever charges the participants might be facing, the strength of will required to conquer a serious addiction and change one's life must be very great.

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