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New Alcohol and Drug Court for Samoa

Samoa now has a new Alcohol and Drugs Court, set up to reduce the number of crimes related to drug and alcohol consumption . The Head of the Court will be female Supreme Court judge, Mata Tuatagaloa. Speaking to the press, Chief Justice Patu Falefatu Sapolu noted that the problem of drug and alcohol related offenses would not be a simple one to solve. In the year 2012 alone, some 43 per cent of offences dealt with by the Supreme Court, were linked to the use of drugs and alcohol. In 2013, this figure rose even higher – to 51 per cent. In 2014, it rose to 72 per cent. Clearly, a primary focus of fighting crime lies in addressing the issue of substance abuse and alcoholism.

One of the driving forces behind the establishment of the new court, is Justice Ema Aitken, who told the *Sunday Samoan* that she hopes the new Court will shed a new light on alcohol and drugs and encourage users to take responsibility for their choices. She stated that there were two problems faced by Samoans: the lack of awareness regarding how widespread problems like drinking are, and the relationship between drugs/alcohol and the likelihood of crime. The new Court will be punishing individuals for their actions, despite the fact that research does not indicate that spending time in prison alters behavior in a positive way.

Justice Aitken noted that in prison, when offenders are united in the same space, they can come out worse for wear, unless comprehensive rehabilitation programmes are provided to them. She added that when prisoners are removed from their support networks – including family, friends, work colleagues, a positive influence is removed from their lives. The new Court aims not only to punish, if not to help offenders address the true cause of their criminal behavior, in order to achieve real results for the offenders as well as society as a whole.

The Drugs and Alcohol Court exists in New Zealand and is based on a U.S. model. However, the Court has been built by Samoans for Samoans, using a very strong social structure to boost success. For instance, the Community Justice Supervisor (a post fulfilled by a mayor or pastor) will be responsible for sharing the Court’s values with members of their village. So far, these supervisors have been appointed in from Afega to the hills of Vailima.

The new Court has also set in motion an education interventional programme, which teaches offenders about how alcohol and drugs can impact their health and their lives. Many do not know, for instance, that specific drugs (like cocaine) are so addictive because they provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system and holding down a job – and to learn of the best treatments for rehabilitation, including cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, 12-Step-style programs, etc. Group therapy can also be useful to enable those in recovery to feel like they are not alone.

Sometimes, the ignorance of offenders relates to the amount of alcohol they are drinking. It is important to read labels and understand alcohol percentages and how they can affect behavior.

Teaching offenders the positive effects of rehabilitation is also vital. They need to realize that self-loathing, judgement and blame lead to guilt, anxiety and possibly, a relapse. The focus of rehabilitation should be on its positive effects – on how quitting drugs and alcohol can restore valued relationships with families and friends – even those they have let down through past abuse.

Finally, the Court hopes to encourage offenders to see the effect their drinking can have on children, since kids emulate their parents, it is important to provide a good example, so that children learn the value of being responsible to others, and to themselves.