WRAP - No prison in Westbury

Editorial: Is it time for a treatment focused health response to drug crime?

The Examiner
1 November 2020

There is a vicious cycle of crime in Tasmania and it's about time we broke it.

Tasmania's Court Mandated Diversion program is a sentencing option available in the Magistrates Court.

It's defined as a "therapeutic jurisprudence approach" designed to assist people with a demonstrable illicit drug use problem, whose drug use is linked with their offending.

Its aim is to break the drug-crime cycle using the authority of the court, to ensure offenders access the services and treatment necessary to address the issues that contribute to their drug use and offending.

But is it working? Or, as some have suggested, are drug treatment orders turning into a get of jail free card?

Justice Department data shows there were 71 drug treatment orders and 18 bail diversion orders imposed on offenders in 2019-20. Of these, 25 were cancelled - a rate of 28 per cent.

So far in 2020, a further 50 orders were made to October 16 - a jump from the consistent average of 85-100 orders a year, over the last four years.

Most of the offences relating to these orders are for crimes such as common assault, aggravated robbery, and dealing or trafficking illicit drugs.

The program is supported by Tasmania's Law Society, who points to the 65 per cent success rate as a positive, within the context of a challenging process.

However, the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council of Tasmania believes there needs to be a better balance to address the underlying causes of an individual's problematic drug use and their co-occurring criminal behaviour.

The council advocates for a treatment focused health response, rather than the heavy-handed justice response that is currently applied.

There's no denying that illicit drug use is a burden on our community, as are the crimes associated with it. If crimes are committed, then there must be justice.

But if there is an opportunity to address the underlying causes of criminal behaviour, and as such prevent re-offending, then surely this approach makes more sense.

There are many CMD success stories, but there are also many failures. The Justice Department says there has been no formal reviews into the program.

With 2020 already seeing a big jump in the number of orders made - perhaps now is the time for one.


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