Magistrates' Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) Program
The MERIT program is a diversion program that provides offenders who have a drug or alcohol dependency an opportunity to work towards rehabilitation as part of their bail process. If accepted into the program a drug treatment program is developed that matches the person’s needs and runs for approximately 3 months.
The MERIT Program is a voluntary program based in the Local Courts that your son/daughter can apply for during the bail process. The primary goal of the program is to break the substance abuse-crime cycle by involving defendants in treatment and rehabilitation programs. It consists of two types: Drug MERIT and Alcohol MERIT. Drug MERIT is aimed at adult defendants who have illicit drug use problems. Alcohol MERIT is aimed at adult defendants who have alcohol abuse problems.
Why should my son/daughter do the MERIT program?
Doing the MERIT program present significant benefits for your son/daughter, including:
- Potentially leading to a lesser sentence
- Enabling your son/daughter to improve their long-term quality of life
- Helping your son/daughter break the cycle of drug-related crime. This reduces their chances of reoffending and being called before a court on criminal charges again.
Research into the program found that 97% of magistrates expressed the belief that participation in MERIT reduced the likelihood of further offending. When the magistrates were asked about the weight given at sentencing for satisfactory completion of the MERIT treatment program, most magistrates described satisfactory participation in MERIT as: “significant” (35.1%), “a great deal/ weight” (21.6%) or “considerable” (13.5%).
Participating in the MERIT program 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 or alcohol dependency, it is worth considering the MERIT program if they are eligible.
Is my son/daughter eligible to participate in a MERIT program?
To be eligible, you son/daughter must:
- Be suitable for release on bail
- An adult with a demonstrable illicit drug or alcohol problem
- Willing to consent to a treatment program
- Not involved in current or pending offences related to physical violence or sexual assault, or matters that will be heard in the District Court
- Deemed suitable for treatment and have a treatable problem
- Approved to participate in the program by the Magistrate
- For Drug MERIT be appearing at the following Local Court: Albion Park, Ballina, Bankstown, Bathurst, Blacktown, Blayney, Broken Hill, Burwood, Byron Bay, Camden, Campbelltown, Casino, Cessnock, Coffs Harbour, Cooma, Downing Centre, Dubbo, Fairfield, Forbes, Gosford, Grafton, Hornsby, Junee, Katoomba, Kempsey, Kiama, Kogarah, Kyogle, Lismore, Liverpool, Maclean, Maitland, Manly, Milton, Mt Druitt, Mullimbimby, Murwillumbah, , Muswellbrook, Newcastle, Newtown, North Sydney, Nowra, Oberon, Orange, Parkes, Parramatta, Penrith, Port Kembla, Port Macquarie, Queanbeyan, Raymond Terrace, Ryde, Singleton, Sutherland, Tamworth, Toronto, Tweed Heads, Wagga Wagga, Wauchope, Waverley, Wellington, Wilcannia, Wollongong, Woy Woy or Wyong Local Courts
- For Alcohol MERIT be appearing at: Bathurst, Broken Hill, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Manly, Orange, Wellington, Wilcannia, or Wollongong Local Courts.
What is involved in the MERIT Program?
If your son/daughter’s application is successful they will attend an interview with the MERIT Team to assess the type of treatment suitable for them. The treatment may involve Detoxification, Methadone and other pharmacotherapies, residential rehabilitation, individual and group counselling, case management or other forms of welfare support and assistance. Often the treatment is made as part of the bail condition.
There are 5 steps involved in the Program
Your son/daughter may be referred to the MERIT program before a formal plea is entered. A referral can be made by magistrates, police, your son/daughter or their lawyer.
Court proceedings will be adjourned while the MERIT team assesses whether they are suited to and would benefit from the program. The assessment is conducted by health teams assigned to participating NSW Local Courts. The assessment focuses on a broad range of areas such as substance use history, physical health, mental health, housing, education, and training and employment issues.
If your son/daughter is not assessed as suitable for participation in MERIT, they will return to court and have their matter dealt with in the usual way. If your son/daughter is assessed as suitable, they will return to the referral court and the Magistrate will impose a bail condition that they abide by the reasonable directions of the MERIT team. If they breach this condition or commit a further offence during the MERIT program the MERIT team may notify the court and your son/daughter could be excluded from participating in the program.
Participation in a treatment program agreed to by your son/daughter and their MERIT Caseworker usually lasts 3 months. During this time support and guidance is provided to your son/daughter by a MERIT Caseworker. While on the program your son/daughter must appear before the Magistrate usually at 6-week intervals. The MERIT team provides the court with progress updates.
Upon the conclusion of the program your son/daughter will return to court and enter a plea if not already done so. Magistrates are provided with a comprehensive report regarding participation in treatment. Where appropriate the report makes recommendations to assist your son/daughter in maintaining and continuing their rehabilitation. If your son/daughter is convicted the Magistrate will take into account their completion of the MERIT program in sentencing.
Failure to respond to a drug treatment program will not be dealt with by punitive measures. If they are convicted any penalty will relate to that offence only and not to any failure to respond to treatment.
If your son, daughter or any other relative are eligible for the MERIT program please call us for further assistance and representation.
- Reside as directed (maybe at an accommodation or residential rehabilitation service)
- Accept supervision by the Department of Juvenile Justice
- Accept case management support from a YDAC Case Manager
- Participate in individual, group, and/or family counselling
- Participate in educational or vocational assessments and programs
- Participate in health related assessments or intervention
- Participate in recreational/leisure programs
- Submit to random urinalysis
- Attend the YDAC for Report Back sessions as directed
What do participants in the Youth Drug and Alcohol Court program say?
Research has shown that the YDAC has had a positive impact on the lives of many of those participating and that graduates of the program were less likely to re-offend than those who did not complete the program. Participants experienced decreased drug use and were also motivated to reduce their drug use. They also experienced improvements in mental health over the longer term. The research also showed that young people were happy with the program and especially the court and casework staff.
If your son, daughter or any other relative are eligible for the Youth and Alcohol 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.