The Victorian Government recently announced the second stage of its program to tackle ice addiction.
State Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, unveiled the $57.6 million package – the centerpiece of which is an expanded Drug Court program based at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, allowing an additional 170 drug offenders to receive targeted support.
The funding breakdown is as follows:
- $32 million to expand the Drug Court of Victoria,
- $5.5 million for training and support for frontline workers,
- $6 million for the 18 to 20 bed Grampians mental health facility,
- $10 million to improve mental health, alcohol and other drug facilities, and
- $4 million to address ice addiction in Aboriginal communities.
This funding builds on the $45 million pledged by the government last year, which focuses on expanding drug rehabilitation services in Victoria’s drug hot-spots and treating 500 habitual users each year.
Need for Reform
In announcing the plan, Mr Pakula acknowledged the failure of the current punitive approach to drug use. “The lack of effective sentencing options for serious drug-related offences has resulted in increased imprisonment rates, increased re-offending and a failure to address the underlying causes of addiction,” he said.
Victoria has experienced a concerning spike in crime rates in recent years. The State’s Crime Statistics Agency has released figures for 2015 which suggest an 8.1 per cent rise in overall crime. Young repeat offenders were the main driving force for the increase.
Assistant Police Commissioner Robert Hill said young people represented 90% of those arrested for theft, burglary and break and enter offences. The crime rates in each of those areas was by up 10% on the previous year.
Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Crisp believes that ice is behind most of the drug-related offending.
While a 2015 study of Australian drug use suggests that the number of Australians using methamphetamines has remained stable at around 2% since 2001, there are significant shifts in:
- The number of users preferring ice over other methamphetamine, up from 22% in 2010 to 50% in 2013,
- The proportion using at least weekly, up from 9.3% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2013, and
- An increase in the purity of ice, up from an annual average of 21% in 2009 to 64% in 2013.
A recent report by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) expressed concerns about the damage caused by ice. “Ice is now the number one problem in terms of illicit substances,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said. The drug is believed to be funding international criminal syndicates, with over 60% of Australia’s most wanted serious and organised crime figures believed to be involved in the methamphetamine trade.
The Drug Court
Drug Court programs seek to address the issue of drug dependency, rather than sending offenders to prison. They generally take referrals from Local and District Courts, and strive to tailor long term solutions which break the cycle of drug use and crime.
Mental Health Minister Martin Foley recognised the effectiveness of Dandenong’s Drug Court program in diverting offenders away from the criminal justice system. “The support then leads to better outcomes as people both get their lives back together, get off the drugs and end their crime careers,” he said. “It’s had remarkable success and we intend to roll that model out around Victoria.”
Participants in the Dandenong program were 30 per cent less likely to reoffend within 2 years than those sentenced in the regular court system. This has saved Victorian tax payers an estimated $3.8 million in enforcement costs. Drug Court Magistrate, Tony Parsons, has also highlighted the social and health cost savings of diverting low-level offenders away from prison.
With the increased funding, the Victorian Drug Court is expected to deal with 240 people each year, up from the current 70.
New South Wales
A 2015 study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics found that habitual users who commit drug-related crimes are less likely to reoffend when dealt with by the NSW Drug Court than when sent to prison.
Participants in the NSW program were found to be 17 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for any offence, 30 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a violent offence and 38 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a drug offence at any point during the follow-up period -which averaged 35 months.
The study adds to a growing body of evidence that Drug Courts are more effective than prisons when it comes to reducing reoffending rates and the costs associated with enforcement.
It is hoped that our state will also capitalise on the long term economic and social benefits of diversionary programs by increasing investment to our own Drug Courts.