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The Judicial Psychosocial Program For The Care Of Drug Users

THE JUDICIAL PSYCHOSOCIAL PROGRAM FOR THE CARE OF DRUG USERS

 

I. INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW OF DRUGS IN BRAZIL

 

I would like to initially thank Ms. Roberta Leis and the NEADCP for this wonderful opportunity to be here and share my experience as a public Prosecutor during the time a new and innovative drug program was implemented in Brasilia’s legal system by the local Department of Justice. I have been working in this area since 1998. In 2002, I was fortunate to lead the development of this program, which aimed at giving medical treatment and psychosocial follow-up instead of imprisonment to drug users.

First of all, I would like to explain some peculiarities about Brazil within a world-wide context of drugs. Brazil is a country of continental dimensions. It is the fifth largest country in the world and the most populous in South America. Geographically, Brazil has, on one side, a long borderline with Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia and, on the other side, the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Among the borderline countries, three of them, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, are the main cocaine producers in South America, particularly the last one. The Brazilian geography, along with its transportation and communication infrastructure, endows it a privileged position in the international illegal drug business. Particularly, it has given Brazil a leading role as a path to move drugs from the producing countries to the consuming ones.

 

Brazil’s position as a main link between drug producers and consumers favored Brazilian drug dealers to define effective methods to spread drugs within Brazil. Nowadays, the Brazilian drug consumer market is the biggest in Latin America. As a result, and considering the country’s poor social-economic conditions, drug commerce has grown and tends to develop even more, especially due to the lack of adequate governmental strategies to fight the drug dealers’ agility and effectiveness.

 

II. THE NATIONAL ANTI DRUG POLICY

 

Among the many sources of concern relative to drug commerce and use, the main one is the rising consumption of cocaine, ecstasy and other synthetic drugs. Not only are these drugs recognized to be highly damaging to human health, all of them are highly addictive. Due to severe restrictions to its entrance in the United States and because Brazil serves as a main path for its distribution in South America, it is believed cocaine will have significant user growth in Brazil. Synthetic drug use tends to increase due to the ease by which it is produced, stocked and distributed.

 

The Brazilian government is sensitive to this reality and, in order to revert the process and stimulate reduction in the demand of these drugs, re-organized the Anti Drug National System (SISNAD) and created the Anti Drug National Department (SENAD), which is the executive branch of the Federal Government responsible for the implementation of the Anti Drug National Policy (PNAD).

 

These changes resulted from a commitment assumed by Brazil at a United Nations Special Assembly that took place in 1998, when member countries agreed to face the drug problem with a broader, shared responsibility.

 

As part of the efforts of the Brazilian Government, the Ministry of Health, in 2003, established strategies to strengthen its programs of support to alcohol and other drug users, with emphasis on addiction prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and social re-integration of drug users. At a local level, Departments of Justice in several states and the Federal District (Brasilia) began to share the responsibility of controlling the spread of drug use and addiction. I was very fortunate to have been involved in this local effort in the Brasilia Department of Justice.

 

From the start, we knew that simply applying offenders with sanctions defined in the Law would have slim chances of success. It was then believed by our Department of Justice team that punishable action would not be as effective as giving offenders psychosocial follow-up and medical treatment. After becoming familiar with the American Model of Drug Courts, we decided to adapt it into our legal system, improving and diversifying the programs we already had in place.

 

III. THE JUDICIAL PSYCHOSOCIAL PROGRAM

 

The forwarding of drug users to medical and psychosocial treatment, as we know, is an alternate and controversial way the legal system can act towards helping resolve the problem of drug abuse and addiction. It seemed to be a promising alternative to the established paradigm where defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges apply only those solutions traditionally defined by the law, whenever a crime involving drug possession and personal use is committed.

 

This new vision for the role of law professionals did not emerge without many objections from jurists and psychologists. In the minds of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, they should not get involved with social work. In addition, they argue that the medical and psychological treatment for drug users is not a legal problem, but a public health matter. For most of them, the solution is to lock up all the drug users to keep the community safe and problem-free. As for the psychologists, they affirm that coercive treatment is not effective. This general attitude towards the alternate legal model was also present in Brazil.

 

Without getting into the merit of this issue and respecting different opinions, our experience has shown that this model does indeed work and that it can make a difference in a drug user’s life. Actually, the most effective way to respond to these objections is to examine current research and hard data. Nowadays, there are many studies available which illustrate the positive impact of drug treatment programs on participants. (See information published on The New York Time, Sunday, November, 9, 2003.)

 

In our program in Brazil, for instance, we decided to work with universities and their departments of psychology, to confer a degree of scientism and credibility to our work. As a result, two monographs about our program have been published and another four are being written that confirm its validity.

 

We started to articulate our legal program for the follow-up of drug users in 2002, motivated mainly by the harsh reality of the offenders that arrived at our courts, mostly coming from low income communities, with low levels of education, no professional qualification, and, frequently, already drug dependent.

IV. THE LEGAL SIDE OF THE DRUG PROGRAM

In Brazil, the legal grounds for adopting this model lies on the provisions of two statutes – article 76 of Federal Law number 9.099/95 (Small Claims and Criminal Offenses Act) and article 16 of Federal Law n. 6.368/76 (Illegal Drugs Act).

 

To acquire and posses illegal drugs for personal use is a misdemeanor in Brazil, punishable by imprisonment for six months to two years. In Brazil, there are no administrative sanctions, such as fines or suspension of a driver’s license.

 

Even though imprisonment is the sole sanction applicable to such crime, practically no defendant is taken into custody, due to the fact that it is a misdemeanor. At the time of arrest, the officer may, instead, write a "notification" and the suspect is then released on his own recognizance and ordered to appear before a judge at a later date.

The offender is eligible for the program only if he or she has neither previously been sentenced nor prosecuted.

V. PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION

The program comprises three stages:

The first stage consists of assisting, interviewing and evaluating the eligible offender. This job is made by a team of psychologists, social workers and trainees attending last year of the course of Psychology. At this moment, the most adequate therapy and its length shall be decided.

The treatment itself begins in the second stage of the program, comprising insertion in mutual help groups, referring to psychotherapy (including family) and, in more serious cases, hospital internment.

In the third stage, efforts are made to make sure that the individual achieves his or her social re-integration, by means of education and development of professional skills.

In Brasília, where a public health system to assist drug addicts is not sufficient, it was necessary to pursue partnerships with community-based organizations, in a network arrangement, with the following institutions:

I – Universidade Catolica de Brasília (Department of Community Psychology).

II – Centro Universitario de Brasilia - UniCeub

III - Psycho-Social Center of Federal District Court of Justice.

IV – Mutual Help Groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

V– Voluntary Psychologists and Social Workers.

VI – Trainees studying the last year of Psychology Course.

VII – Therapeutic Communities for internment.

VIII – Churches of all religions.

The assessment and monitoring of the progress of beneficiaries are done as follows:

a) Those referred to mutual help groups carry an attendance control form which is stamped by the meeting coordinator, and, after completion of the number of attendances assigned, the form is attached in the file;

b) Those referred to psychological treatment and/or house care will be monitored by periodical reports made by the institution, according to the severity of the case.

The goals of the program are then:

1) Minimize the emotional and behavioral damages caused by consumption of drugs;

2) Decrease recidivism and crime rate;

3) Decrease penitentiary inmate population;

4) Crime prevention and damage reduction for offenders with history of drug consumption;

5) Promote social re-integration of offenders;

6) Design a profile of drug addiction in the Brasilia area.

VI. CONCLUSIONS

Thus far, no official statistics are available to testify for the success of our program, as it has been active for less than two years. Nevertheless, our experience, so far, has given us reason to believe it has been tremendously successful. During this period, more than 600 people have been forwarded to various partnering institution for assistance in re-directing their lives. Personal testimonies of several program participants and their families have attested to their joy, satisfaction and faith in the positive outcomes of their efforts. Narratives from psychologist coordinators at the universities describe the engagement, seriousness and hope deposited in the program by its participants. They also describe cases where the participants are able to secure a new start in life, after obtaining new employment opportunities or returning to school.