1 March 2021

Jury is out on the success of the Drug and Alcohol Court

| Dominic Giannini
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Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury fronted Committee Hearings on Friday (19 February). Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Measuring the success of drug and alcohol treatment orders in the ACT will remain difficult according to Acting Principal Registrar and Chief Executive Officer at ACT Courts and Tribunal Amanda Nuttall.

Appearing before the Justice and Community Safety Committee Hearing, Ms Nuttall said the success of the program would be determined by those that go on and live productive lives and do not reoffend.

“How we measure that is always a difficultly, especially once they leave the courts we do not have any oversight of them except if they come back into the system.”

“It is too early to tell if the program effectively reduced the likelihood of recidivism in these individuals,” Ms Nuttall said.

“At a minimum, we would like to see people who re-offend if they have completed the program, that their offence is not as serious as what brought them into the program,” she said.

More than double the number of people who applied for the drug and alcohol treatment order in the first year of the program in 2019-20 with just eight accepted for the drug and alcohol treatment order. Two had their orders cancelled.

The orders allow offenders to spend time in rehabilitation rather than prison with the number of people accepted into the program increasing to 16 in the 2020-21 year to Friday, 19 February.

Two completed the program, three were cancelled and two were found unsuitable to undertake the program during this reporting period according to Ms Nuttall.

Six others are currently under assessment.

READ MORE ACT’s first Drug and Alcohol Court aims to reduce reoffending

But not everyone who applies for the order is necessarily eligible, she said, as lawyers can put the offender forward. A short assessment is undertaken to determine whether the person has drug or alcohol issues before being referred to the judge.

Justice and Community Safety Directorate Director-General Richard Glenn said the judge can then order a fuller assessment which takes a broader approach to determine suitability, including their mental state.

“It is a critical point that this is not a soft option, it is very hard for the individuals who go through the process, it is very vigorous for them,” he said.

“During the selection process, a lot of people can put their hand up and say ‘I would like to do it’, but the assessment needs to be about is this person in the right space and ready because it is going to be personally challenging for them.”

Two participants have finished the year-long program, but only one completed all four stages of the program.

Chief Executive Officer at ACT Courts and Tribunal Amanda Nuttall

Chief Executive Officer at ACT Courts and Tribunal Amanda Nuttall said it is too early to tell recidivism will decrease. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said even if people did re-offend, the success of the program could still be measured against the severity or time between offences.

“The notion – the Americans refer to it as desistance – is the idea that the people who had a history of criminal offending and or drug abuse, may not get back on the straight and narrow instantly but we may see lower levels of offending or greater periods of time between offending,” he said.

“That is an important measure of progress as well, that people are in a less severe category of both offending and or substance abuse.”

The Drug and Alcohol Court held its first hearings in the first week of December 2019.

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Based on the 1 person who completed all stages of the program while the rest bombed out, it sounds a lot like it has been a massive failure, and nobody wants to admit it. Rattenbury is already being a rodent and pretending it is ok if they continue to offend, just not quite so seriously. That one gave me a good laugh.

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