Georgia's Drug Courts model for Thailand

The work of Georgia’s drug courts and of the Criminal Justice Reform Council was recently on display in Thailand, thanks to a collaboration between the Administrative Office of the Courts and the U.S. State Department, Bureau of International Law Enforcement and Narcotics.

 At the request of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and the Thai Judiciary, representatives from Georgia’s AOC as well as from federal and state courts in Ohio traveled to Thailand in early March to present on sentencing alternatives in narcotics cases.  In recent decades, Thailand followed the U. S. precedent of passing very strict drug-sentencing laws.  As a result, Thailand now has the 10th-highest incarceration rate in the world and is experiencing significant prison overcrowding issues.  Seventy percent of male inmates and 80 percent of female inmates are incarcerated for drug-related charges.  Government officials are now in the process of reviewing Thai drug policy and expressed interest in alternative approaches that have been developed in the U.S.


  Thailand Court of Appeals         


Over four days, more than 150 judges from Thai trial and appellate courts (photo above, Court of Appeals of Thailand) as well as Thai prosecutors learned how Georgia and other U.S. jurisdictions have effectively used drug courts and sentencing alternatives to improve treatment for drug offenders while reducing both incarceration and recidivism.  Georgia’s representative described the dramatic expansion of accountability courts in recent years and explained how Governor Deal’s criminal justice reform efforts have provided more flexibility in addressing the risks and needs associated with nonviolent drug offenders. The Thai audiences were especially interested in understanding the role of the judge in the drug court treatment process.  “While Thailand does have some court-imposed rehabilitation services, there is not nearly the level of collaboration between judges, service providers, and probation personnel that we have in our drug court system,” said Tom Rawlings, who participated in the training on behalf of the AOC.


Thai JudgesGiven its relative wealth among its Southeast Asian neighbor countries, Thailand is a destination for drugs manufactured in surrounding Myanmar and Cambodia.    Thai officials struggle especially with the issue of methamphetamine, which is often consumed in the form of a pill called “Yaba.”  Due to legislative mandates, possession of even small quantities of the drug can label an offender as a distributor and can result in years-long sentences.  As a result, the three trainers – including a federal and a state judge from Ohio – focused on the need for Thai judges (photo at left) to distinguish carefully between distributors and addicts who might occasionally sell small amounts to support their habits.


This collaboration between the AOC and the State Department is the first of what is expected to be regular international exchanges.  As part of its mission to improve the rule of law, the State Department’s INL Bureau promotes judicial capacity-building in many countries around the world.  Thanks to an ongoing agreement with the Georgia AOC, our state’s judges will have further opportunities to play a significant role in that work.


           Judges interested in future international opportunities should contact Cynthia Clanton, JC/AOC Director.








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