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Working with Criminal Justice Clients

Best Practice in Working with Criminal Justice Clients

There are a range of considerations that need to be made in working with criminal justice clients that will enhance best practice service delivery. Your service already has expertise in helping people dealing with drug and/or alcohol and other related issues. Ex-prisoners are essentially no different to other clients- they have a similar range of issues and need a chance to sort themselves out. To help them you need to treat them the same as any other client, but there are some specific points to consider.

Similarities Outweigh the Differences

It's important to understand that the risk factors for drug and alcohol relapse are the same as the risk factors for reoffending. It's the number of factors needing to be addressed, not what they are, that creates the high level of risk of relapse or reoffending. For example, if a client is facing homelessness, has a history of mental illness and drug use issues, they are much more likely to relapse or reoffend than someone who has stable housing, manages their mental illness and is seeking treatment for their drug use issues.

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Many Drug and Alcohol Clients will Commit an Offence

The majority of people who use alcohol and other drugs have committed, or will commit, an offence related to their use, but will not be caught.

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Come from a Disadvantaged Background

Criminal justice clients on the whole, according to research both in Australia and overseas, are highly disadvantaged. The vast majority have problems with drug and alcohol use. When people come in contact with the criminal justice system, their disadvantage often 'tips' them towards prison. Conversely, a person from a more advantaged background who commits the same offence may be steered away from prison due to more comprehensive legal and financial support. For more information see About Criminal Justice Clients: Challenges facing Criminal Justice Clients

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Increasing Access to Treatment

The most critical factor affecting a person's ability to address their drug and/or alcohol issues is access to treatment. Drug and alcohol dependency is a health issue and as such needs to be treated within a specialist health service. Clients of the criminal justice system have the same rights as everyone else to timely and equitable access to treatment. See Use of a Criminal Record for more information.

Read a short interview with Dr Astrid Birgden (Director of the Compulsory Drug Treatment Program with Corrective Services NSW) on this topic. Click here to download

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Treating Client Holistically

It's essential to treat ex-prisoners with drug and alcohol issues holistically, as with any client. This requires staff to utilise a range of models and interventions specifically targeting individual client needs. People don't develop drug dependence in isolation from other problems - all drug issues are complex and inter-connected. Risk-taking behaviour associated with drug use means clients of drug and alcohol services already have an elevated level of significant health problems. There may be some ex-prisoners who need specialist treatment programs. These may be due to mental illness, brain damage or disability.

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"Seize the moment. This is your teachable moment. It may be the only time this person steps inside a treatment service. No matter what the motivation you have a golden opportunity to positively assist a person."

Astrid Birgden, Director of the Compulsory Drug Treatment Program, Corrective Services NSW