An authority on the Drug Court has shared the numerous ways it will positively benefit the community of Dubbo.
Speaking at the Law Society of NSW's Rural Issues conference, former senior Judge of the NSW Drug Court, Roger Dive explained how the Drug Court will work in Dubbo, and shared a number of his experiences presiding over the court.
In June this year it was announced Dubbo would be the home of the state's fourth Drug Court, with the NSW government investing $27.9 million over the next four financial years to expand the program.
The specialist drug court, currently at Sydney, Parramatta and Toronto, is a multi-agency response to drug-related offending with the aim of keeping drug-dependent offenders out of prison.
The new Drug Court is set to host 80 participants on the program at one time, and is expected to open in July 2022.
Mr Dive - who led the state's specialist drug court for more than 17 years - said the court was about "therapeutic jurisprudence", a court focused on solutions.
"At the Drug Court, we work as a team, we share information and we have the collective resources to make things happen," he said.
In a typical Drug Court, the Judge works alongside other parties, such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, Legal Aid, police, community corrections, Justice Health, the area health service and non-government organisations.
Each morning they sit at the bar table and discuss participants coming to court that day. From there participants will sit down and have a chat with the Judge and the team about how their week has gone.
"We talk about their drug test results, whether they've been to counselling ... whether they went to the job interview or whether they attended their literacy class, whether they were home for their home visit," he said.
"It's quite confronting for the participants at the beginning, but they do get used to coming to court and indeed, I think almost universally they start to enjoy coming to court because there's actually some sensible people who are capable, who are interested in them and who want to help them make some change."
Participants are expected to engage with the Drug Court program for a minimum 12 months, but on average often stay for 15 months before graduating from the program.
Upon graduating successfully, offenders will leave with a community corrections order, rather than serving a jail sentence.
"So with an enormous amount of effort by the participant, you can turn a three or four year sentence into a community corrections order with a long period of sustained recovery," he said.
HOW THE DRUG COURT WORKS
Mr Dive explained the court program involved a lot more than just talking about a person's drug use and stopping it.
He said it involved making sure participants had access to a variety of basic needs including housing, education, helping them achieve workplace qualifications, access to a Medicare card so they could attend the doctor, having their identification, a bank account, access to free driving lessons, access to dental care, psychiatrist or mental health medication.
"It's getting right down to those details and making those things happen, and it's marking those changes that sometimes makes it feel that it's possible to give up drugs, it's possible to have a different life," Mr Dive said.
To be eligible for the drug court, a person must be highly likely to be sentenced to full time imprisonment if convicted.
They must also indicate they would plea guilty to the offence, be dependent on the use of drugs, live in the local government area, be referred by a Magistrate or Judge, be 18 years or over and willing to participate.
The Drug Court program is broken up into three phases. The first is a three month intensive. Participants attend court once a week to meet with the Judge and team, undertake three urine tests a week, engage with weekly counselling and weekly home visits.
Phase two slowly releases the reigns, where participants come to court every two weeks, doing their usual expectations once a fortnight, and undertaking two drug tests a week.
During the last phase participants meet with the Judge and team once a month and undertake drug tests twice a week.
In the program participants are subject to sanctions and rewards for how well they follow the rules.
So with an enormous amount of effort by the participant, you can turn a three or four year sentence into a community corrections order with a long period of sustained recoveryRoger Dive
"The rewards are almost universally now a round of applause, a clap, as they call it," Mr Dive said.
"It costs us nothing, but sometimes it's the very first time in their lives that they've had any public recognition of success and they love to get a clap."
In terms of sanctions for breaching the program, Mr Dive said they came in a variety of forms including a reprimand from the Judge, an increase in the level of supervision and other contact, or the imposition of imprisonment for up to 14 days.
"There's a whole system where sanctions can be taken off as well. So, if you have two good weeks on the program, you take the sanction off," Mr Dive said.
"So there's a whole motivation in working your sanction down, and it works like a charm. Participants understand where they stand, they know when they need to stop."
At graduation from the program, a participant won't go to jail but will leave on a community corrections order. However if a participant finishes unsuccessfully, they will go to jail for a final sentence - which takes into account participation on the program.
"If someone runs away on day one, and that happens, then they are going to get the sentence," Mr Dive explained.
"But if they stayed on a program for nine months and made a bit of a mess at the end, and served some sanctions along the way, then the court can adjust their final sentences at the end."
He said the final sentence was very important, and because participants had engaged with the program, they realise they're letting themselves down, rather than being let down by the system.
"It's not uncommon for me to give a final sentence when someone's going back to jail and, they'll say you know, 'sorry judge, thanks team. I'll come and see you when I get out', Mr Dive said.
LOCAL REHAB FACILITY NOT AN ESSENTIAL
Speaking on Friday Mr Dive praised the community of Dubbo for its work pursuing a Dubbo rehabilitation facility and Drug Court.
He explained while the Drug Court would be up and running before a residential rehab facility, he assured it's "not a problem at all".
"Sending people away to a rehab not in town is often a very good idea."
"In Sydney we're using rehabs that are offered up at Coffs Harbour, on the Central Coast, Odyssey House.
"It's often very advantageous for the participants - you know the girlfriend to not be just down the street, not going be called out to come and solve some problem back at home, but to literally go away, learn some skills and then earn their place back at home."
The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has done two major evaluations of the NSW Drug Court, first in 2002 and another in 2008.
Both evaluations revealed the program was far more effective, and cheaper than sending people to jail.
"Very interestingly ... BOCSAR revisited the 2008 participants who were a part of that evaluation and followed them up, so up to 13 years later as to what the long term effect of our court has been, and there was very positive outcomes from that," Mr Dive said.
Now the kids get to go into the shop and sit up on the big bench, and the shoes actually fit, and they can have a say as to the colour of those shoesRoger Dive
However Mr Dive revealed it wasn't just statistics, which proved the long-term positive effect the court has on drug-dependent offenders.
"There's more to success than the statistics and the evaluations, because what I see is people making a life long recovery from drug addiction and staying in touch."
"I have people who I am still in touch with, from 11 or 15 years since their graduation, who will drop an email or send me a photo of a grandchild that's been born.
"This is more than a decade after they finish the programme because they are well and stable, and their life has changed completely."
The former senior Judge also reflected on the ripple effect and impact the program has had on the children and families of participants.
"My favourite story around that was this woman at her graduation, she had six kids."
"Her children had told her, and she was telling me, that they loved going to the shoe shop these days to get their shoes, because - she's very honest about this - but in the past, she would tell the kids to wait outside and then she just go in and get the shoes [and] very quickly leave.
"But now the kids get to go into the shop and sit up on the big bench, and the shoes actually fit, and they can have a say as to the colour of those shoes.
"And of course, the lesson to those children as to how you go about your life and how to acquire shoes is just so important."
Mr Dive said communities needed to continue pushing for more support services to be made available.
"Don't sit on your hands. I think what works best is when communities are pushing hard for some services to be available and possible in their community," he said.
"That's been the history of the Drug Court, where Newcastle were very pushy, and Dubbo was terrific they made it happen."