The illicit drug problem: drug courts and other alternative approaches
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Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 04/1999 by Marie Swain
- The impact of illicit drug use on individuals and the community at large is great, and shows no sign of diminishing (pp2-3). Since the early 1980s the approach by Australian governments to the problem, at both a state and federal level, has been aimed at reducing the supply of and demand for illicit drugs and minimising the harm they cause. Recent funding allocations indicate an ongoing commitment to this approach (pp4-6). As part of the attempt to reduce the demand side of the equation a new measure, a dedicated drug court, is being trialled in New South Wales to give eligible offenders the opportunity to participate in treatment programs to overcome their drug dependence. It is hoped that a reduction in the level of criminal activity resulting from illicit drug dependency will also be achieved (pp45-47). Diversionary schemes, such as the drug court program, provide an alternative option to the traditional path through the criminal justice system (pp7-8). Other schemes which exist or have existed in the Australian context are discussed at pages 8 to 13.
- The model for the drug court is that which has been in operation in the United States for approximately a decade (pp25-27). A number of positive benefits are said to have flowed from the use of these courts including: a reduction in the rate of recidivism and drug usage by participants in the drug court program; increased likelihood of participants obtaining or holding jobs; improvement in family relationships; and cost savings to the justice system (pp27-37). Despite many studies and reports on the position in the United States which claim some or all of the positive outcomes referred to above, a number of influential commentators have stated that the evaluations conducted to date are not conclusive (pp37-40).
- Issues relevant to the implementation of the drug court in New South Wales include: the provision of adequate resources to ensure sufficient treatment places are available; the provision of other support services to assist drug court participants in their daily lives; equity issues to ensure all eligible offenders are able to participate; and the impact on other voluntary drug treatment services currently in existence (pp40-45).
- A special panel comprising: the drug court judge and officers from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; Legal Aid Commission of NSW; Attorney General's Department; Department of Corrective Services (Probation and Parole); Department of Health (Corrections Health Service); and the NSW Police Service, will assess each participant to determine the most appropriate treatment program. As no single treatment option is suitable across the board, a number of treatment options ranging from detoxification to maintenance to behavioural modification will need to be made available (pp13-24).
- The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has been given the responsibility of conducting a comprehensive and ongoing evaluation of the Parramatta drug court. At the end of the two year trial period, decisions can then be made as to the success or otherwise of the initiative.