Some 101 drug offenders have completed the Drug Court’s rehabilitation programme as of last week, the court has revealed.
These include 36 cases submitted by the National Drug Agency (NDA) of individuals serving jail sentences for criminal convictions prior to the enactment of the new Drugs Act, and 48 cases transferred from the Criminal Court, the Drugs Court explained in a statement on Thursday (April 10).
In addition, 17 cases were submitted by the Prosecutor General’s Office.
While 101 offenders successfully completed the court-mandated rehabilitation programme, the court noted that 37 individuals were ejected from the programme for various reasons and transferred to the custody of the Maldives Correctional Services to serve their jail sentences.
Drug offenders brought before the court are handed jail sentences that are then suspended subject to completion of the rehabilitation programme.
Since it began hearing cases in August 2012, the Drug Court has ordered 524 individuals to undergo rehabilitation.
Speaking at a ceremony held earlier this month to commemorate the second anniversary of the court, Acting Chief Judge Mahaz Ali expressed concern with the rehabilitation facilities available in the Maldives.
The NDA informed the Drug Court in April last year that all rehabilitation centres in the country were at full capacity, Mahaz revealed.
The main community centre in Malé was at full capacity at the start of this month, he noted, and could not accept more patients.
On April 1, a 24-year-old man was found dead in a residence in the capital Malé less than 24 hours after his release from the Himmafushi rehabilitation centre.
Police have since confirmed to Minivan News that the recovering addict – Mohamed Rashad from Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi – died of a heroin overdose.
A “high concentration of opium and benzodiazepine” was found in the urine of the deceased, police said.
According to Rashad’s family, he was released from the rehabilitation centre the day before his death.
“Mohamed was released yesterday, and he was staying with a friend at Annaarumaage until the community centre could make arrangements,” Rashad’s uncle was quoted as saying by Sun Online.
“His friend was there when I went to the house, who told me that Mohamed was still sleeping when he woke up. When we went and checked, he was dead.”
NDA CEO Ahmed Muneer explained to the online news outlet that patients undergoing community treatment upon release from rehab were required to attend several classes.
Recovering addicts were required to stay in Malé until the process could be completed, Muneer said.
The Drug Court was formed under the new Drugs Act passed by parliament in December 2011 as part of a policy shift away from taking a punitive approach against small-scale drug offences.
Cases of drug users or pedlars caught with less than three grams of illicit narcotics were to be handled by the specialised court.
In May 2012, former State Minister for Health Lubna Zahir Hussain explained to Minivan News that the new court would address concerns over a “lack of awareness” amongst some Criminal Court Judges over the use of forensic evidence.
“Under previous legislation, the role of forensics was not taken into account during a trial. Even in cases where a [suspect’s] urine test was shown to be positive for illegal drugs, if they continued to deny they were a drug user, courts in the past have taken the decision not to prosecute,” she said.
“Criminal court judges have not been fully aware of forensic evidence. The Drug Court however will have five judges well trained to deal with these types of cases.”
A report released in late 2011 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) asserted that the Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would “de-criminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation”.
According to author and UNDP Programme Specialist Naaz Aminath, small-time drug users in their early 20s “are not hard-core criminals, but they’re put away for almost their entire lives,” while drug traffickers serve an average sentence of 25 years.