Member for Morwell, Russell Northe has again highlighted in State Parliament the need for a Drug Court to be established in the Latrobe Valley.
Mr Northe last week had asked the Attorney-General in Jaclyn Symes to commit funding in the upcoming 2022/2023 State Budget for the purposes of establishing a Drug Court at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court.
“I have previously spoken in Parliament asking the Government why the Latrobe Valley has not been the recipient of a Drug Court given the positive outcomes these courts have achieved in Melbourne and Dandenong, and given such options and services are also now available in the regional communities of Ballarat and Shepparton” Mr Northe commenced.
The concept of a Drug Court is a simple but successful one. When an alcohol or drug dependent offender is bought before the courts for low level crimes, the Magistrate can issue a drug and treatment order (DATO) in lieu of incarcerating the person. The purpose of the DATO is to ensure the person seeks treatment and support for their drug and/or alcohol issues. If the individual does not comply with conditions of the DATO the Magistrate can bring the person back to court and impose a sentence.
“I commend the Government for expanding Drug Courts into the Ballarat and Shepparton communities but I am mystified as to why the Latrobe Valley is seemingly not on the priority list, given the unfortunate high incidence of drug and alcohol harm and subsequent criminal offending in our region” Mr Northe said.
“Back in September 2020, I had written to the former Attorney-General alongside a number of supportive local organisations such as the Gippsland Primary Health Network, Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO), Latrobe Health Advocate, Latrobe Health Assembly, Latrobe Community Health Services and local police who likewise share the view a Drug Court in the Latrobe Valley is desperately needed” Mr Northe continued.
Mr Northe said he was very concerned that it was now dependent on where you live which would determine whether your drug or alcohol related offending would be treated either punitively or from a health perspective.
“We now have for example a situation whereby a Ballarat resident who comes before the courts in that jurisdiction for drug related offending could be issued a DATO and health based interventions put in place, yet if you are a local resident and come before the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court a DATO is not an option and to me this seems grossly unfair” Mr Northe said.
“If we are to truly to treat drug and alcohol harm as a health based response then we also need to ensure our courts are equipped to deliver drug and alcohol treatment orders with a view to get people well whilst also tackling the incidence of crime in our region” Mr Northe concluded.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND PURPOSE OF DRUG COURTS
The purpose of Drug Court is to impose and administer an order called a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order (DATO).
A DATO consists of two parts:
• custodial: sentence of imprisonment – not exceeding two years – to be served in the community to allow the participant to receive drug and / or alcohol treatment.
• treatment and supervision: aims to address the participant’s drug and / or alcohol dependency. The supervision of the participant is the responsibility of a Drug Court Magistrate. Support from case managers, clinical advisors, alcohol and drug counsellors, the police and Victoria Legal Aid is central in assisting participants achieve treatment and recovery goals.
• Participants on a DATO are required to: • attend and participate in regular appointments with the Drug Court
• routinely submit to supervised drug and / or alcohol testing
• attend Drug Court weekly • engage in drug and or alcohol, medical, psychiatric or psychological assessment and treatment
• attend educational, vocational, employment or other programs
• comply with conditions of the DATO, including residential and curfew conditions.
Rewards and sanctions are used to encourage positive behaviour and address any non-compliance. Any non-compliance or reoffending may lead to the cancellation of a DATO.