Scotland's drug treatment and testing orders (DTTO) are controversial but they can have a dramatic effect – Karyn McCluskey

I sat in a court not far from Rabbie Burns’ birthplace a few weeks ago, invited by a sheriff after a chance meeting at an event.

Sometimes the happenstance of an invite, means an early start, a long drive, in the pouring rain. Sometimes it’s life-affirming. The first part of the court day was closed for those who were on drug treatment and testing orders (DTTO). For an order to happen, there must be a scheme in that area and an individual must agree to accept treatment for drug misuse (including frequent and random drug testing). Supervision and support is provided by social work and health staff plus the sheriff reviews the case monthly.

I must declare that I am divided on DTTO. Addiction is a health issue and it sits uncomfortably with me when we are mandating – even when there is agreement – treatment and testing in a justice setting. Yet, and here is where the contradiction lies, I have met so many people who tell me that the road to recovery started with a DTTO. I have sat in courts where those who had completed their order were in tears at their achievement – so what do I know! I remain conflicted but know that there is much support for the approach.

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I can’t speak of the people who were in court that day – their stories are not mine to tell, but the experience was life-affirming in so many ways. For those who had stayed the distance with the programme, there was pride, respect and achievement. For those who couldn’t – I feared what the future held, so deep was their addiction.

The magic ingredient was the people within the court who were genuinely invested in the outcomes of those who were appearing. From the sheriff, to the social worker, from the court police officer to the court officials – there was a palpable sense that they were rooting for them. They were committed to the process, and even more so to the person.

I often speak of procedural justice, which is the degree to which someone perceives people in authority apply processes, or make decisions about them, in a fair and just way. I think it is less about the process of the DTTO, but whether people feel heard, understood and supported to achieve. The evidence around so many successful programmes in criminal justice is that a skilled empathetic practitioner is the key to success. I think this applies as much to the sheriff who is overseeing the DTTO as it does to the health and justice staff.

There was a big cop at the door of the court (okay, maybe it was the chunky body armour) as the successful DTTO clients left the court, he gave that affirming flick of the head to them as they left, and in that small gesture, he showed that he too was part of the success of the court process.

There are no excuses for crime. But there are loads of reasons. Understanding the reasons doesn’t excuse the harm. There are few days when I can say I am moved to tears in a court, but I feel no shame in saying that I felt emotional.

Drug addiction should be treated as a health issue (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Drug addiction should be treated as a health issue (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Drug addiction should be treated as a health issue (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland



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