Drug offenders to be dealt with at special court

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The Independent Online
MAGISTRATES are soon to begin training for an experimental court dedicated to dealing with drug offenders.

They will spend two days looking in depth and discussing with experts the impact of hard drugs on society and the lives of people who take them and deal in them.

The JPs, all very experienced, will sit at Wakefield and Pontefract magistrates' courts in West Yorkshire, where they will decide if offenders go on rehabilitation programmes or are sentenced in another way.

Constance Gilbey, 68, chair- woman of Wakefield magistrates, who is one of a pool of 24 volunteer JPs, said the court should not be seen as an easy option for offenders.

"Those who go on the treatment programme will follow a very strict regime which will restrict their freedom," said Miss Gilbey. "The idea is to help offenders to break the drugs habit and give them new lives ... what's useful to the offender will be useful to society."

Miss Gilbey, a JP for 38 years, said magistrates will have to be convinced that the offenders who come to their court are committed to the treatment programme before they are allowed on to it.

The court, which begins work in June, is part of "Step" - substance misuse and enforcement programme - initiated by Wakefield Health Authority, drugs agencies in the area and the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator, Keith Hellawell, when he was chief constable of West Yorkshire, after they saw a similar scheme operating in Miami.

Police will refer offenders arrested for drug-related crimes to a Step worker who will assess them in the cells before they are bailed or remanded to the next available drugs court, which will be held weekly in Wakefield and eventually Pontefract.

Their treatment taken while on probation will involve detoxification, using drug substitutes, and therapy to change attitudes and behaviour. Regular urine tests will be made to check that no drugs are being taken.

An offender will go back to court regularly so magistrates can monitor their progress. If they do well they will graduate and the probation order terminated or left to expire.