Call to grow Drug Court

The low-key entrance to Drug Court House in Dandenong. 194791_03 Picture: CAM LUCADOU-WELLS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

The evidence is clear – that “therapeutic” justice works and should be expanded, according to Victoria Legal Aid (VLA).

An independent evaluation of the “therapeutic-based” Dandenong Drug Court, recently featured in Star News, has found it’s more cost-effective and delivers lower re-offending rates than prison.

Despite also expanding to Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, the Dandenong branch is at its capacity of 60 participants – with a three-month waiting list.

VLA therapeutic courts managing lawyer Amanda Carter said such courts addressed the “over-representation” of people with mental health, substance dependence and related issues in the justice system.

“People with issues like these who come into contact with the justice system must have access to community-based therapeutic programs which support them to recover.”

“There is clear evidence that therapeutic responses to criminal offending are effective and should be expanded statewide.”

“Given the evident success of these programs, it makes sense to expand access wherever it is needed, and for governments to appropriately fund them.”

The State Government has made no indication of further expanding the Drug Court – which includes extra funding for Victoria Police, Corrections Victoria, Victoria Legal Aid and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

A spokesperson said it expanded the Drug Court to Melbourne in 2017 because “an effective and fair justice system requires a multi-faceted approach”.

“Victoria already spends more on specialists courts, like the Drug Court and the Koori Court, than any other state in Australia.

“We’ll continue working with the judiciary and legal fraternity to ensure that individuals’ offending is addressed.”

The drug court offers drug treatment orders of up to two years to hardened criminals in lieu of serving time in jail.

Offenders are given thrice-weekly drug tests as well as housing, employment services, rehab and counselling in a bid to address the drug addiction fueling their criminality.