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August 01, 2012

Ecuadorian Delegation Studies U.S. Drug Courts

August 2012

Ivan Saquicela, an Ecuadorian prosecutor from the town of Cuenca, never thought he would find himself in Tennessee learning about “therapeutic justice.” Theoretically, the notion that the law promotes people’s physical and psychological well-being made sense to him. Yet, he never knew that this was the basis for how some courts conduct their business. Once he became aware of it though, he wanted to change how drug-related cases are handled in his municipality, and decided to learn more about therapeutic justice by seeing how it’s done in the United States.

The study tour allowed delegation members to learn about the role that drug courts play in reducing caseloads in congested court systems.

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) brought three representatives from a group tasked with identifying best practices for drug courts and overseeing the implementation of pilot drug courts in Cuenca for a May 31–June 1 study tour to Nashville, Tennessee. The group attended the annual conference of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) to learn about the role that drug courts play in reducing caseloads in congested court systems. The conference addressed several topics, including case management and recovery from drug addiction. The delegates also took part in a visit to a drug court, organized by the Organization of American States (OAS), and learned about the successes and challenges of drug-court implementation.

“A growing number of countries in the Americas—Argentina, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados—are currently exploring the model of drug treatment courts as an alternative to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders,” said Antonio Lomba, program manager for the Drug Treatment Court Program for the Americas at the OAS’s Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. “Canada, the U.S., Chile, Mexico and Jamaica have implemented the model.”

Saquicela said that his participation in the study tour taught him that a multidisciplinary approach works better in addressing drug use and in helping drug addicts. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “It offered me valuable insight into therapeutic justice, which is a model we can implement in Ecuador.”

Jose Ordoñez, an Ecuadorian psychiatrist who serves in government-operated treatment clinics, said, “Drug treatment courts offer a second chance at life for these users to serve as productive members of society, help reintegrate them into their families and resolve conflicts related to their drug use.”

Eduardo Moreno, a juvenile court judge, believes that it should not be hard to implement drug courts in Ecuador. He said that the family, women’s, child and adolescent units that the Judicial Council has created would facilitate the implementation. Moreno said, “These units have access to medical and social workers that can be supervised by a judge. Further, specialized police units, like the Specialized National Police Unit for Children, can monitor community supervision.”

Al Amado, ABA ROLI’s country director in Ecuador, said that he believed that specialized drug courts would help link the efforts of “the judicial system that addresses the crime aspect with the treatment system that addresses the use of drugs.” Amado said, “[Currently,] the offender circulates back and forth between ineffective treatment with no judicial oversight and incarceration with no treatment. The effect of this on youth, society and the family is troubling and a holistic system is needed.”

Equipped with the lessons and insights they have gained, Saquicela and his colleagues will continue to lead the effort to make drug courts a success in Ecuador. The study tour was supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

To learn more about our work in Ecuador, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].