The Drug Court of New South Wales was introduced in February 1999 as a 2-year-pilot program under the Drug Court Act 1998 (NSW). After various evaluations it was decided to extend the pilot-program until 2004, with amendments being made to the Drug Court Act 1998 (NSW) in December 2002.
The Drug Court’s main objectives are:
to reduce the drug dependency of eligible persons
to promote the re-integration of such drug dependent persons into the community, and to reduce the need for such drug dependent persons to resort to criminal activity to support their drug dependencies.
But is the Drug Court effective in achieving these objectives?
There are two main points of view on this.
But to be able to realize if it is effective or not, we must acknowledge that Drug courts: - have had successes, but will not produce a success every time and careful judgments need to be made about acceptable failure rates; - are focused on treatment, rehabilitation and reduced recidivism [re-offend]; - are more intrusive for offenders than a conviction or short sentence; - are more expensive than traditional courts but when taking the whole package (court + imprisonment + cost of re-offending) could be much cheaper; - face implementation challenges integrating criminal justice and treatment agencies, cooperative arrangements between judge, prosecutor and defence, and achieving objectives broader than those of the criminal justice system.
Those that think that it’s effective believe it to be so because of the way the programs are set up. Australian Law and legal institutions have addressed the issue of effectiveness by introducing specific criteria which must be met for an individual to be eligible to take part in the program.
To be eligible for a program a person must:
be highly likely to be sentenced to full-time imprisonment if convicted; have indicated that he or she will plead guilty to the offence; be dependent on the use of prohibited drugs;
reside within the catchment area (specified areas of Western Sydney); be referred from a court in the catchment area;
be 18 years of age or over; and
be willing to participate.
Each phase of a persons program has specific goals in which to achieve before the participant is able to move onto the next. This ensures that people are working to the best of their ability to recover from their addictions. Under the Drug Court Act 1998 (NSW) the Court is allowed to give out rewards to those who maintain a satisfactory level of compliance with their programs, but sanctions are imposed to those who fail to comply. Rewards can include:
conferral of specified privileges,
a change in the frequency of counselling or other treatment, a decrease in the degree of supervision,
a decrease in the frequency of testing for drugs,
a decrease in the amount of any monetary penalty payable to the Drug Court, a change in the nature or frequency of the vocational and social services which the drug offender is required to attend.
While sanctions can include:
withdrawal of privileges
an increase in the frequency of counselling or other treatment, an increase in the degree of supervision,
an increase in the frequency of testing for drugs,
a requirement that the drug offender pay a monetary penalty to the Drug Court, imprisonment in a correctional centre for up to 14 days,
a change in the nature or frequency of the vocational and social services the offender is required to attend.
[show diagram] This diagram is a diagram of the process used in the drug court program.
Those who believe that it is ineffective believe it to be so because of the results of a number of evaluations that were conducted. Evaluations showed that there was room for improvements, but that did not necessarily mean that it is ineffective.
Evaluations have shown that:
− A new legislative basis for the YDC is needed, particularly to establish a codified system of sanctions for non-compliance with program requirements and to clarify the uses of bail and custody for participants in a pre-sentence program.
− Further guidelines or practice directions need to be developed for the operations of the Court Team, to avoid potential conflicts of interest and to clarify the proper uses of information in a non-adversarial court setting.
− A number of policy issues should be reviewed including: program eligibility criteria; the optimum period for mandatory program involvement; the application of sanctions for non-compliance with program requirements; and methods of increasing the engagement in the program by young women.
− Continuing discussion is also needed about the optimum combination of treatment options and the best use of services such as the Health day-programs.
− The purpose and application of urinalysis should be reviewed to determine whether it could become an effective tool for monitoring participants’ drug use while on the program.
− Further co-location of different service elements of the program should be considered, with a view to improving communication and cooperative working. Other methods including a computer intranet for the program might also be examined.
− Any expansion of the program into other geographical areas would need to take into account the availability of key services such as stabilisation, detoxification and short-term accommodation, and the cost of meeting gaps in such services where needed.
− There is a need for more effective cross-departmental monitoring and recording of key program interventions and participant outcomes, based on an agreed set of indicators. This monitoring might include a single summary form completed for each participant at both entry to and exit from the program (where possible).
− Better data are needed on offences coming to the attention of the police and the courts in order to determine accurately the level of offending by program referrals and participants and the dates when these offences have been committed. It is recommended that the Departments of Juvenile Justice, Attorney-General’s and the Police Service work together with the YDC Registry and the Judicial Commission to develop a more effective, unified data system for this purpose.
− The Departments involved in the YDC should consider whether better coordination and management might be achieved if a single manager could be appointed with overall responsibility for the program, especially if the program is expanded.
− There were also a number of areas in which stakeholders felt the program could be doing more to meet its original aims. These included sensitivity to cultural issues, avoiding further criminalisation of young people through sanctions, assistance for young people with a range of special needs, and involving participants’ families.
To conclude, the question we need to ask is do the points of effectiveness weigh out the points of ineffectiveness? In other words is it effective or is it not? I have come to the conclusion that the drug court is effective because it reduces the drug dependencies of individuals, promotes the re-integration of such drug dependent persons into the community, and reduces the need for such drug dependent persons to resort to criminal activity to support their drug dependencies – all of which are its objectives. For those reasons, the Drug Court has been effective and this is also supported by the fact that it still operates or exists today.