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Expanding the Victorian Drug Court model

The VCOSS State Budget Submission 2015-16 Building a Victoria without poverty recommends the state government build on the success of the Victorian Drug Court model by rolling it out to every Magistrate’s Court jurisdiction in Victoria.

This call is timely, with the KPMG Evaluation of the Drug Court of Victoria (DCV) launched in March 2015. The evaluation confirms the success of the Drug Court in working effectively with individuals with severe drug and alcohol dependency to both improve community safety and reduce crime.

The Victorian Drug Court initiative is a response to the failure of traditional criminal justice measures to adequately address drug use and related offending. It operates out of the Dandenong Magistrate’s Court, providing for the sentencing and supervision of offenders with drug and/or alcohol dependencies who have committed an offence under the influence of drugs or alcohol or to support their addiction.

The evaluation report showed that while participants remain on drug treatment orders, they experience improvements in their wellbeing and connectedness to the community, which can improve their chances of staying off drugs and alcohol and substantially reduce the risk of reoffending.

The report showed evidence of reduced risk factors, such as medical risk, psychiatric risk, and drug and alcohol risk for DCV participants. Participants also reported improvements in their health as a result of being on the program. Participants who progressed to the later stages of the DCV program experienced improvements in their family relationships and housing stability, as well as improvements in other life skill areas such as time management and accountability.

In addition, the recidivism data showed a marked decrease in the frequency and severity of offending by DCV participants. The reoffending rate for DCV participants was 31% lower within the first 12 months and 34% within the first 24 months than the control group.

The Victorian prison population has risen dramatically in recent years, driven in part  by the tightening of sentencing rules and the abolition of suspended sentences. This rise in the number of people incarcerated has seen a commensurate increase in spending on prisons. Victoria’s 2014-2015 operational spending on corrections will exceed $1 billion, almost double the amount the state spent in 2009-10.

The DCV is a cost effective alternative to incarceration, being considerably cheaper than an equivalent term of imprisonment.

The DCV continues to deliver positive outcomes for the community, evidenced by improvements in health and wellbeing for the participants and a reduction in recidivism by those who complete the program. It should be made accessible to more Victorians, in every Magistrate’s Court jurisdiction across the state.

The VCOSS Budget submission also recommends the continued development of innovative court models like the Neighbourhood Justice Centre and Koori Courts, which aim to provide new responses to crime by addressing the behaviour underlying many offences. In 2010, the Victorian Auditor General released a report finding that problem solving approaches to justice in Victoria had reduced recidivism.

Additional funding is required to assist people to participate fully in these innovative, problem solving courts, including additional legal assistance and other services.

The full Drug Court Evaluation report is available on the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria website.