Drug Court Information for Parents
A Drug Court is a specialist court for adult offenders who have a drug dependency. They help 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.
Drug matters may be addressed in a Drug Court instead of a Local or District Court. The Drug Court tailors a treatment program to address the offender’s specific needs and plays a supervisory role during the treatment program. Drug Courts are different from other courts as they have three specific objectives:
- To reduce the drug dependency of eligible persons
- To promote the reintegration of such drug dependent persons into the community
- To reduce the need for such drug dependent persons to resort to criminal activity to support their drug dependencies.
There are two Drug Courts currently operating in NSW. They are located in Parramatta and Toronto. A new Drug Court at the Downing Centre in the Sydney CBD will be operational in May 2012.
Why should my son/daughter choose to attend a Drug Court?
Your son/daughter is not forced to attend a drug court. However electing to go to a Drug Court presents significant benefits such as:
- Allowing your son/daughter to remain out of prison in order to participate in the Drug Court program
- A lower sentence
- Enabling your son/daughter to improve their long-term quality of life
- Helping your son/daughter break the cycle of drug-related crime which reduces their chances of reoffending.
Research has found that the Drug Court is better at reducing the rate of re-offending among offenders who had committed drug-related crime than if they were sent to prison. In 2008 a study was undertaken that found offenders who completed the program were much less likely to be convicted of an offence than offenders who did not enter the Drug Court. Also, offenders who completed the program showed are more likely to have better health outcomes than those not in the program.
Attending a Drug Court is not an easy option. Your son/daughter must be aware that it imposes onerous requirements on them. However if your son/daughter has a strong desire to address their drug dependency it is worth considering the Drug Court program if they are eligible.
Is my son/daughter eligible to participate in the Drug Court program?
To be eligible to participate in the Drug Court Program your son/daughter must:
- Be before one of the following Local or District Courts: Bankstown, Belmont, Blacktown, Burwood, Campbelltown, Cessnock, East Maitland, Fairfield, Kurri Kurri, Liverpool, Maitland, Mount Druitt, Newcastle, Parramatta, Penrith, Raymond Terrace, Richmond, Ryde, Toronto or Windsors
- Have a “usual place of residence” within the Wester Sydney Catchment Area (i.e. Auburn; Bankstown City; Blacktown City; Campbelltown City; Fairfield City; Hawkesbury City; Holroyd City; Liverpool City; Parramatta City; Penrith, or the Hills Shire.); or have a “usual place of residence” within the Toronto Catchment Area (i.e. Cessnock City, Lake Macquarie City, Maitland City, Newcastle City, Port Stephens)
- 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).
Additional eligibility requirements include:
- Being highly likely to be sentenced to full-time imprisonment if convicted
- Having indicated that they will plead guilty to the offence
- Being dependent on the use of prohibited drugs (excluding a dependency solely on alcohol or prescribed medication such as benzodiazepines other than rohypnol).
If your son/daughter has already been convicted the eligibility criteria is wider.
Satisfying these criteria does not guarantee your son/daughter a position.
There are usually insufficient positions to service the number of referrals to a Drug Court so your son/daughter may be placed into a weekly random selection process.
In addition the Drug Court has the discretion to exclude a person from the program if the court could not have confidence that the person would behave violently on the program, or the person is incapable of participating because they will remain in custody serving a sentence, or where bail is refused.
If your son/daughter is not accepted into the program your son/daughter will continue to be dealt with as though your son/daughter never sought to be referred to the Drug Court.
What is involved if the Court decides that your son/daughter is eligible?
If the Court decides that your son/daughter is eligible, your son/daughter is 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 your son/daughter. They will receive copy of the undertaking which details the conditions of a Drug Court program. During this time their Drug Court program (known as their Treatment and Case Plan) is drawn up.
Once their treatment plan is ready your son/daughter returns to the Drug Court to receive an initial sentence for the charges for which they were referred to the Drug Court. The Court suspends this initial sentence upon your son/daughter entering into their Treatment and Case Plan.
The Drug Court program is designed to meet their specific needs.
Treatment options include abstinence and 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 their progress
- Regular testing for drug use.
What happens during the program?
During the program, participants work through 3 phases:
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.
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.
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
During the program, participants work through 3 phases:
Their participation in the Drug Court program may end for a number of reasons:
- Successful completion
- At their request
- The Court decides that your son/daughter is unlikely to make any further progress in the program or that further participation poses an unacceptable risk to the community that your son/daughter will reoffend.
Whatever the reason, at the end of the program, the Court will consider the initial sentence. The Court will take into account the nature of their participation in the program and any sanctions that have been imposed on your son/daughter during the program and any time spent in custody during the program.
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. Importantly, the Court cannot increase the initial sentence.
What do participants in the Drug Court program say?
Research has shown that the participants in the program viewed the manner in which the court treated them as fair. The majority of participants thought that the treatments services were satisfactory and participants were grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in the Drug Court program. 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 your son, daughter, or other relative are eligible for the Drug Court program please call us for further assistance and 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.