Computer ballot chooses which criminals with addictions go to jail, inquiry told
“The detrimental effect of this unmet demand is profound,” Judge Dive said.
“To manage the demand fairly, if somewhat brutally, a computerised ballot is conducted, and so only some of the apparently eligible and appropriate offenders are successful in the ballot and given a Drug Court opportunity. Those who are unsuccessful are, inevitably, simply sentenced to a jail term.”
In 2017, almost a quarter of eligible offenders were unsuccessful in securing a place on the program through the ballot process.
Some would-be participants were excluded from the process by reason of living on the wrong side of their street, and therefore within a local government area that was not within the catchment of the Drug Court. Others missed out because they were referred in a particularly busy week.
“The inequity of the sentencing outcome is becoming starker, as co-offenders or even life partners (who have committed crimes together) may have different outcomes in the ballot. So one of a pair may get a chance to stay out of custody and recover, and the co-offender or partner is imprisoned.”
Regional communities including Dubbo, the Illawarra, Central Coast and Northern Rivers had been agitating for a drug court. The program should be expanded to target key geographical areas of need, Judge Dive said.
The program had experienced a “significant and sustained” increase in its success rate over the past six years and seemed to be particularly effective in an environment where ice was the predominant drug of addiction.
Counsel assisting, Sally Dowling, SC, said on Monday effective solutions to drug use must consider the underlying drivers, including trauma, poverty, lack of education and employment, poor housing and mental and physical health problems. Other therapeutic courts included the Family Drug Treatment Court in Victoria, which works with drug-addicted parents.
Family Drug Treatment Court magistrate Gregory Levine told the inquiry on Monday that the court had been successful in helping parents to stay clean in the interests of reuniting with their children, and the community benefits were manifold.
“Young people who may well have been looking at a life of dysfunction, mental health problems and troubling the criminal justice system … and if they’re living productive lives they’re helping the community in a great way,” Mr Levine said.
Harriet Alexander is a reporter for the Herald.