Land proposal for drug clinics

NSW LOCAL Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) chairman Stephen Ryan wants to develop vacant parcels of Indigenous-owned land into healing centres and clinics for convicted drug offenders.

The Dubbo-based elder, who has served two years as the NSW chairman, believes traditional sentencing has failed to address the rise in drug-related crime and backs calls from local magistrate Andrew Eckhold, last week, to establish a drug court for the city.

Mr Ryan said developing more long-term treatment facilities would lift some of the burden faced by the state's prison system and believed the LALC had the available land to make a streamlined drug court and treatment system a reality.

The NSW LALC has proposed a number of land leasing opportunities in next year's state budget and has called for further talks with the newly created Aboriginal Affairs Task Force and state government on addressing "the drug crisis sweeping the state".

"The cost of keeping these people in the system, mentally and financially, far outweighs the benefits," Mr Ryan said.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates 11 per cent of the nation's 29,383 prisoners in 2012 are serving sentences for illicit drug crimes.

More than a third, or about 31 per cent, of all drug offenders had previously served time for other drug-related offences prior to June 30, 2012.

Women, at 17 per cent, made up the highest proportion of inmates nationally, incarcerated for drugs, with sentences ranging from between three to six years.

"I think it's pretty clear when you look at habitual drug re-offenders continually walking in and out of the system that incarceration is not the answer," Mr Ryan said.

Mr Ryan has called for a more collective approach to tackling the drug crisis and believes using the land to develop more centres focused on rehabilitation and family healing would be an alternative to traditional sentencing.

"We're not asking that all offenders be put through a drug court and treatment facility system, there is an obvious line in the sand that needs to be drawn in terms of determining who is referred to the drug court system and who isn't," Mr Ryan said.

"Serious and repeat offenders should be dealt with by the [criminal justice] system."

Calls for a drug court have gained momentum since Dubbo Magistrate Andrew Eckhold highlighted it as a tool to assist offenders caught in the "vicious cycle of addiction", in open court recently.

"It is an important issue to address, particularly as the custodial rate in NSW is higher than in other states," the magistrate said.

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