The success of the ACT’s Drug and Alcohol Sentencing List (DASL) in helping offenders, saving money and improving justice in the Territory has meant the government is now considering expanding the program.
But while a new report backs the program, it also found there are issues when it comes to housing, while the Territory’s chief justice said its most important recommendation is its call for more consultation with the First Nations community.
DASL, which is also called the Drug and Alcohol Court, started in late 2019 and allows for an offender to work with a team of justice and health professionals instead of being handed a custodial sentence.
A recently released independent evaluation by the Australian National University has estimated DASL has saved $14 million from avoided prison time, slightly more than the $13.3 million the government recently allocated to run the court for two years.
“It identifies that those who are going through Drug and Alcohol Court are changing their trajectory,” ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said of the report on Tuesday (9 August).
“It is having a positive impact on their family connections, on their mental wellbeing, on no longer being involved with drugs and alcohol, in having less involvement with the criminal justice system.”
As of March 2022, 56 orders had been imposed on participants with alcohol and drug substance use issues, while eight had graduated.
Mr Rattenbury said the numbers were still relatively small due to COVID-19 delays and the court being in a pilot phase, but those that had graduated had so far not become involved with the criminal justice system again, which was an “extraordinary outcome”.
“This report provides strong evidence to both continue the program and to expand it,” he said.
“We have seen in recent times that the list has actually been full. To me, that is a sign of success.”
He said he will be making a case for the expansion of DASL resources in the mid-year budget process in February 2023 “so we can have more people come into this program”.
“This is where we want to be spending our money; not on building a bigger jail, but on investing in the programs that help people get out of the criminal justice cycle and actually put their lives on a different track,” he said.
The ACT Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Lucy McCallum said it was clear Drug and Alcohol Treatment Orders were treating addiction and reducing recidivism.
There was also “robust evidence” the court was effectively providing rehabilitation, and rehabilitation was the only purpose of sentencing that is “unequivocally protecting in the long-term”, she said.
But she said there is still work to do as the report had 15 recommendations, the most important being that the court consult more widely with key Indigenous Australian stakeholders.
The report states about 30 per cent of DASL participants over 2020-2022 were Indigenous Australian, while 27 per cent of the Alexander Maconochie Centre’s inmates in 2021 were Indigenous.
Chief Justice McCallum said the ACT had, proportionately, the highest rate of incarceration of Indigenous Australian people in the country.
In DASL, she said there was a slightly higher rate of Indigenous people having cancellations or failing to complete the program. For instance, the report states 53 per cent of cancelled cases involved Indigenous participants.
“I would have hoped that this diversionary program with a therapeutic base would have reduced those numbers and it doesn’t,” she said.
The report also stated appropriate housing was a “consistent issue” for those seeking to be involved in DASL as suitable accommodation was needed for participants.
Mr Rattenbury said the government had committed to building more public housing and had a justice housing portfolio for those coming out of custody or on bail, but this was under pressure from demand so more resources would need to be considered for these areas.