Establishing a drug court in Dubbo would reduce "significant pressure" on the already struggling prisons, says the Law Society of NSW.
Figures released earlier in the month by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show the NSW prison population increased by 3.6 per cent in 2019. It equates to an additional 470 people in jail, bringing the figure to an all-time high of 13,635.
The statistics lead to Law Society of NSW president Richard Harvey calling a drug court for Dubbo an "urgent priority".
"It's unacceptable that someone with a drug dependency is being sent to jail because of the lack of locally-based drug and alcohol health services," he said.
"The Drug Court can be effective in changing lives of people with a drug dependency and should be part of a comprehensive drug plan for our state."
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A drug court is specifically designed to deal with offenders with drug dependencies.
"Many offenders the Drug Court deals with have serious issues that would otherwise see them continue to offend in the community. Imprisonment has often failed to deter them from committing a crime," Mr Harvey said.
Studies by BOCSAR have shown the drug court program is more cost-effective than prison when it comes to reducing drug-related crime. It also found it was equally as cost-effective at delaying the onset of further offending.
It's unacceptable that someone with a drug dependency is being sent to jail because of the lack of locally-based drug and alcohol health services.Richard Harvey.
Mr Harvey said a drug court would ensure a greater number of drug-dependant offenders in the region were offered the most appropriate treatment and rehabilitation.
"The high prison population is putting significant pressure upon an already struggling system, resulting in a substantial and continually increasing backlog in our courts and delays in our justice system, all at a time when our legal aid system is under increasing pressure," he said.
"Instead of pouring money into the prisons, the NSW government needs to invest in early intervention strategies, expand the Drug Court to Dubbo and better resource community-based health treatment such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres - especially in regional areas."
Mr Harvey said putting people with drug dependencies in prison was not the answer, nor was it having an impact on the rate of crime.
He said it was "abundantly clear" that more funding was needed to target the underlying issues of drug use.
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