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Drug Courts - The Positive Choice

Why do we need drug courts?

Up to three-quarters of the people who appear in the criminal justice system have problems with drug use. Drug courts help deal with these people in a holistic way - getting to the root cause of the crime and finding the best possible solution to break the cycle.

What are the benefits of drug courts?

Drug courts provide a way to reduce re-offending, drug-related crime, drug use and make offenders accountable for their rehabilitation. They offer participants the opportunity to address their substance abuse problem as well as give them the skills to deal with other issues through counselling and support.

Where did the idea of drug courts originate?

Drug courts are not new. They were introduced in the United States in the late 1980s and have since been adopted in varying forms throughout the US. Drug courts have been similarly piloted and implemented internationally and in other Australian states.

How is a drug court different to other courts?

Drug courts are specialist courts available only to offenders involved in drug-related crimes. Drug courts:

  • use a non-adversarial model of intervention to manage a substance abusing offender's access to, and participation in, appropriate treatment and rehabilitative services
  • seek to motivate rather than coerce offenders. The Drug Court team works collaboratively with offenders towards rehabilitation
  • are sentencing courts with all the obligations and requirements of other courts
  • are based on a case management process that uses dedicated, consistent officers.

What do drug courts aim to do?

Drug courts aim to direct eligible offenders with substance abuse problems into appropriate treatment and supervision programs tailored to their specific needs. The ultimate aim is to break the cycle of substance abuse and criminal behaviour - a better solution for the offender and the community.

What does an accused person have to do to be eligible to appear before a drug court?

An offender, through his or her lawyer, must apply for referral to the Drug Court through the 'regular court'. If successful, the offender will appear in Drug Court where the police prosecutor and the offender’s lawyer will be heard regarding the offender’s application to be accepted for further assessment.

The final decision as to whether a person is accepted for further assessment will be made by the Drug Court magistrate. If the application is successful the offender will be remanded for 28 days, if already on bail in the community, or 21 days, if they are remanded in custody, for the assessment to be made.

Can drug courts be used by alcohol-dependant offenders?

No. The Drug Court has been specifically designed to address illicit drug users. This does not include alcohol dependants, unless that dependence occurs alongside illicit drug use. This enables a clearly focused and manageable program.

Do substance abusers have to plead guilty to have access to one of the Drug Court's diversionary programs?

Yes. Drug courts are about offenders confronting their addiction and being willing to do something about it. The diversionary models have been predicated on a guilty plea and can operate at both the pre-sentence and the post-sentence stage. Offenders participating in the Drug Court will be given a clear indication of the sentencing outcome if they opt to participate in the regime and subsequently do not comply.

What happens if the offender does not complete the rehabilitation successfully?

If an offender does not properly commit to the Drug Court program, the process will be terminated and the court will proceed to sentence, which could mean imprisonment. However, the assessment and treatment needs for those individuals can still be identified and appropriate intervention recommended for prison and on release.

Will all drug offenders be offered the same program?

No. In the Perth Drug Court there are two programs available. Each program allows enough flexibility to accommodate the specific needs of individual participants. The seriousness of the offence, the level of substance abuse and the needs and background of the individual will help decide the obligations and length of the program for each participant. The Court Assessment and Treatment Service (CATS) will also present an assessment to the court which is used in submissions from the defence and prosecution to help determine the level of intervention. The Drug Court programs available are:

  • Drug Court Regime (DCR) - for offenders with less serious offences who face a sanction that does not include a prison sentence, or a very short prison sentence.
  • Pre Sentence Order (PSO) - for offenders with serious offending who face an immediate and substantial prison sentence. This is the most intensive option available to the Drug Court.

In both programs, the offender is placed under the case management of the Drug Court judicial officer who is supported by CATS, the offender's defence counsel and prosecution counsel.

What incentives will there be for the offender to remain in treatment within the Drug Court regime?

The greatest incentive is the opportunity for the court to impose a less serious sentence, such as suspending a term of imprisonment rather than requiring the person to serve it immediately. Incentives can also be continued in the case management process. For example, the level of supervision and frequency of court appearances may decrease if the results of the urinalysis are encouraging.

Is there a limit to the number of times an offender can elect to participate in the Drug Court?

No. Over the years there has been an increasing realisation by the courts that often individuals need multiple attempts at rehabilitation before they are successful. However, there are limitations on the capacity and ability of criminal courts to prolong the focus on treatment to the detriment of other court business. It is expected that referring courts and receiving drug courts will take into account an individual offender's past involvement with the Drug Court when considering assessments.

What is the role of Court Assessment and Treatment Services (CATS) to the Perth Drug Court?

Initially, CATS officers are involved in the assessment of clients for suitability to participate in the Drug Court regime. Included in this assessment is a recommendation of the most suitable form of treatment intervention for each client's particular circumstances and referral to treatment and support services.

Following the acceptance of an offender into a Drug Court program, CATS will monitor their attendance at counselling and other services. Possible drug use will be monitored via regular urinalysis testing. An offender’s progress is monitored by regular judicial reviews.

Following completion of a Drug Court program, CATS will present a verbal report addressing progress made on the Drug Court regime. The report will include recommendations regarding ongoing support in the community of each client on an individual basis.

As an offender on a Drug Court program, can I trust my CATS officer to address my individual concerns in confidence?

All information given is subject to responsible management and confidentiality. Case managers are required to obtain a ‘release of information’ from each offender before providing information to any other party, unless exempted by law in cases of child protection.

Will all offenders who appear in the Drug Court and plead guilty be placed on the same rehabilitation/treatment intervention program?

No. There is a variety of treatment programs available. Each offender will be assessed and, if eligible, placed in the most appropriate treatment program. The level of intervention determined by the court will affect how closely the offender is monitored during the treatment program.

A system of rewards and sanctions is part of the Drug Court regime. These are developed in consultation with the judicial officers and treatment agencies attached to the court. The rewards include encouragement and praise from the judicial officer on the bench, reduced levels of supervision and urinalysis, and less frequent court appearances.

The final reward for completion of the program and major behavioural change may include the use of a spent conviction (if a deferred sentence approach is adopted), or a non-custodial sentence.

What happens if participants do not comply with the tratment program?

Possible sanctions include warnings and reprimands from the judicial officer, increased frequency of urinalysis, increased supervision requirements, increased court appearances, a remand in custody or, the ultimate sanction for failing to fulfil the conditions of the order, termination from the program and possible imprisonment (if the initial offence warranted a period of imprisonment).

Can any drug offender opt to take part in one of the diversionary strategies at any stage of their sentencing?

No. The diversionary models are based on a guilty plea which is entered or indicated clearly at an early stage of the court appearances in relation to those offences.

What about defendants with drug problems who are not appearing in Perth?

Some country courts offer diversionary programs for offenders with substance abuse problems, on certain conditions.

For example:

  • The Geraldton Court has the Geraldton Alternative Sentencing Regime, which is similar to the Perth Drug Court.
  • Adult offenders appearing in metropolitan courts may ask to have their case transferred to the Perth Drug Court.

Country offenders may participate in the Perth Drug Court program, if eligible, provided they live in Perth for the duration of their participation in the program.

Last updated: 3-Feb-2017

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