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Drug court

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Contact Armstrong Legal:
Sydney: (02) 9261 4555

John Sutton

The Drug Court is a specialist court for adult offenders with a drug dependency. It helps people overcome both drug dependency and criminal offending by diverting them into individual treatment programs supervised by the Court for a minimum of 12 months.

The Drug Court operates from the Parramatta Court complex and deals with people charged with matters that can be finalised in the Local or District Court.

Why is the Drug Court different?

Unlike other courts, the Drug Court has three specific objectives set out in legislation:

  • to reduce the drug dependency of eligible persons;
  • to promote the re-integration of such drug dependent persons into the community; and
  • to reduce the need for such drug dependent persons to resort to criminal activity to support their drug dependencies.

What are the benefits of the Drug Court?

The Drug Court is not an easy option. It imposes onerous requirements on defendants. However, if you have a strong desire to address your drug dependency, the Drug Court presents significant benefits. These include:

  • Allowing you to remain out of prison in order to participate in the program.
  • Potentially leading to a lesser sentence. The average initial jail sentence for program entrants is 14 months. Almost 50% of participants exit with a non-jail sentence.
  • Enabling you to improve your long-term quality of life.
  • Helping you break the cycle of drug-related crime. This reduces your chances of reoffending and being called before a court on criminal charges again.

Interviews with people in the course conducted by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research showed that those who remained on the Drug Court program showed clear evidence of improved health and social functioning. In most cases, these improvements were found to have continued in the 12-month follow-up period.

After a year on the program, male participants' health was rated as higher than the Australian population norms on each of the health dimensions tested.

Am I eligible to participate in the Drug Court program?

To be eligible you must:

  • be highly likely to be sentenced to full-time imprisonment if convicted.
  • have indicated that you will plead guilty to the offence.
  • be dependent on the use of prohibited drugs (excluding a dependency solely on alcohol or prescribed medication such as benzodiazepines, other than rohypnol).
  • be before one of the following Local or District Courts: Bankstown; Blacktown; Burwood; Campbelltown; Fairfield; Liverpool; Parramatta; Penrith; Richmond; Ryde; and Windsor courts.
  • have a "usual place of residence" within one of the following local government areas: Auburn; Bankstown; Baulkham Hills; Blacktown; Campbelltown; Fairfield; Hawkesbury; Holroyd; Liverpool; Parramatta; Penrith, or the Hills Shire.
  • be willing to participate.

A person is not eligible if he or she:

  • is under the age of 18 and/or is facing a charge before the Children's Court
  • is charged with an offence involving violent conduct, a sexual offence or an offence involving a strictly indictable offence of supplying prohibited drugs.
  • is suffering from a mental condition that could prevent or restrict participation in the program (this does not prevent referral to the Drug Court. An assessment will be made after referral as to whether the person is capable of participating if properly medicated).

Satisfying these criteria does not guarantee you a position in the Drug Court program.

There are usually insufficient positions to service the number of referrals, so you may be placed into a weekly random selection process.

In addition, the Drug Court has the discretion to exclude a person from the program because, for example, the court could not have confidence that the person would not behave violently on the program, or the person is incapable of participating because they will remain in custody serving a sentence or bail is refused.

If you are not accepted onto the program, you will continue to be dealt with as though you never sought to be referred to the Drug Court.

What is involved?

1. Detoxification

If the Court decides that you are eligible, you are taken into custody for approximately two weeks of detoxification and assessment. All participants, including those who have been granted bail, must enter custody.

Whilst in custody, requirements of the Drug Court are further explained to you. You receive copy of the undertaking which details the conditions of a Drug Court program.  During this time, your Drug Court program, known as your Treatment and Case Plan, is drawn up.

2. Initial sentence

Once your treatment plan is ready, you return to the Drug Court to receive an initial sentence for the charges that have been referred to the Drug Court. The Court suspends this initial sentence upon you entering into their Treatment and Case Plan.

3. Participation

The Drug Court program is designed to meet your specific needs.

Treatment options include abstinence, methadone and buprenorphine programs conducted in either the community or residential rehabilitation settings. Ongoing psychiatric treatment is provided.

All programs involve:

  • evidence-based drug treatment;
  • social support and the development of living skills;
  • regular reports to the Court regarding your progress; and
  • regular testing for drug use.

During the program, participants work through 3 phases:

1 – 'initiation' phase

Participants are expected to reduce drug use, stabilise their physical health and cease criminal activity. Participants are required to undergo drug testing at least three times a week and to report back to the Drug Court once a week.

2 – 'consolidation' phase

Participants are expected to remain drug-free and crime-free, and develop life and job skills. Testing for drug use is conducted twice weekly and report-back court appearances occur fortnightly.

3 – 'reintegration' phase

Participants are expected to gain or be ready to gain employment, and to be financially responsible. Drug testing is conducted twice weekly and report-back court appearances are conducted monthly.

Ending the program

Your participation in the Drug Court program may end for a number of reasons:

  • successful completion.
  • at your request.
  • the Court decides that you are unlikely to make any further progress in the program, or that further participation poses an unacceptable risk to the community that you will reoffend.

Whatever the reason, at the end of the program the Court will consider your initial sentence. The Court will take into account the nature of your participation in the program, any sanctions that have been imposed on you during the program and any time spent in custody during the program.

The Court cannot increase the initial sentence.

When the Court finds that a participant substantially complied with a program, a non-custodial sentence is the usual order but is not always the case.

What do participants in the Drug Court program say?

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research study, New South Wales Drug Court Evaluation: Health, Well-being and Participant Satisfaction, revealed that participants consistently viewed the Court as fair.

Less than 15% of participants indicated any dissatisfaction with treatment services.

Participants were grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the Drug Court program as an alternative to jail.

Some participants expressed feelings of personal success at being able to abstain from illicit drugs and regain control of their lives. They said that being able to restore family relationships was one of the most rewarding aspects of being on the program.

If you are eligible for the Drug Court program or are a relative of someone who may benefit from the program please call us if you need further assistance or representation.


where to next?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

Why Choose Armstrong Legal?

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