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Court and Prison Diversion Programs

There are several programs that can be accessed pre-sentencing (as part of bail) or post-sentencing (as an alternative to prison) for people with illicit drug and / or alcohol problems. For information on the NSW Drug Diversion Continuum click here

Your service may well come in contact with clients through one of the following programs:

MERIT (Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment) Program
Drug Court of NSW
Youth Drug and Alcohol Court (YDAC)
Court Referral of Eligible Defendants into Treatment (CREDIT) Program
Cannabis Cautioning Scheme (CCS)
Circle Sentencing

  • MERIT (Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment) Program - MERIT is a pre-sentence drug diversion program based in approximately 60 Local Courts across NSW. MERIT provides the opportunity for people over 18 with drug problems to work, on a voluntary basis, towards rehabilitation as part of the bail process. People can be referred to MERIT by a Magistrate, solicitor, the police or refer themselves for the program. People are then assessed for suitability by a MERIT Team, and if eligible, will receive targeted drug treatment. The court will make the person's involvement in MERIT a condition of their bail. MERIT is a three month program and people are closely case managed by the MERIT team. The Magistrate receives progress reports from the MERIT team and the final hearing and sentence generally coincide with the completion of the MERIT program.
  • Drug Court of NSW - Drug Courts are specialist courts based at Parramatta and the Hunter which supervise the community-based rehabilitation of drug-dependant offenders. Drug Courts aim to assist non-violent offenders to overcome their drug dependence and their criminal offending, and benefit the community by reducing drug-related crimes. To be eligibe for the Drug Court a person must be likely to be sentenced to full time imprisonment, be dependant on the use of illicit drugs, live in certain Local Goverment Areas in Western Sydney and the Hunter, be referred from referring courts in Western Sydney and the Hunter, be over 18 years of age and be willing to participate. Each participant's program is developed to address their specific needs and a range of evidence-based treatment options are offered. All participants report regularly to the court on their progress and are required to undertake supervised testing for drug use. The court can impose sanctions on participants who do not comply with their program, including short custodial sanctions. Successful participants are rewarded by reduced restrictions and encouragement from the court.
  • Youth Drug and Alcohol Court (YDAC) - YDAC aims to reduce reoffending by young people who have become entrenched in the criminal justice system and help them overcome their drug or alcohol problem by diverting young people from further drug use and reoffending by providing specialist assistance in a number of areas. Referrals are received from Children's Court Magistrates through recommendations made by Juvenile Justice Officers or Juvenile Justice Counsellors, Legal Aid solicitors or self-referrals. The YDAC is available at three locations - Parramatta, Campbelltown and Bidura (Glebe) Children's Courts. Young people are initially screened by a Juvenile Justice Counsellor at the young person's first appearance before YDAC for eligibility.
  • Court Referral of Eligible Defendants into Treatment (CREDIT) Program - CREDIT is a diversionary program being trialed (2009 - 2011) at Tamworth and Burwood Local Courts. CREDIT targets people over 18 who are motivated to address issues that relate either directly or indirectly to their offending behaviour. People can self refer to the program or be referred by a Magistrate, NSW Police, legal services, court staff, support workers from other programs or family and friends. The length of the program can vary, but it is usually between two to six months. CREDIT is a voluntary program and people do not have to plead guilty to access the program. Participants are offered facilitated access and support to a broad range of available services providing education, training, treatment, rehabilitation or other social welfare assistance, such as drug assessment, treatment or support.
  • Cannabis Cautioning Scheme (CCS) - The CCS provides for formal cautioning of people over 18 detected for minor cannabis offences and is operated by NSW Police Force. Police exercise discretion in appropriate cases and issue a caution. Police are still able to decide instead to formally charge offenders. A person can only be cautioned twice and cannot be cautioned at all if they have prior convictions for drug offences or offences of violence or sexual assault. The scheme does not apply to those caught supplying cannabis. The formal NSW Police Force caution warns of the health and legal consequences of cannabis use. The caution notice provides contact telephone numbers for the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS). ADIS provides a dedicated, confidential service to a cautioned offender that includes information about treatment, counselling and support services. Persons who receive a second final caution are required to contact the NSW Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) for a mandatory education session about their cannabis use.
  • Circle Sentencing - Circle Sentencing is a prison diversionary program for Aboriginal offenders. The term 'circle sentencing' stems from the circle of representatives sitting together and trying to decide a sentence which does not include a jail term. Representatives are mainly Aboriginal Elders, but also members of the prosecution or police and a magistrate. The circle will also talk about the background and effects of the offence and can involve meeting the victim. The sentence should, where possible, involve community work. The offender must normally enter a guilty plea early in the proceedings indicating a full acceptance of responsibility for the offence. Note that circle sentencing is part of the court process and that it results in convictions and criminal records for offenders.

For more information on crime prevention court and offender programs available in NSW visit: Lawlink

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There are over 10,000 people in jail in NSW on any given day.

Approximately 80% of prisoners connect their AOD dependence to their offending behaviour and imprisonment.

60 - 80% of this group were intoxicated at the time of committing their offence.