Specialist court vital to address NT alcohol misuse

Judges need to have the option to send people with serious alcohol problems who commit crimes to treatment services instead of prison to address alcohol misuse in the Northern Territory, according to Jesuit Social Services.

Jesuit Social Services will present recommendations from its submission to the Northern Territory Alcohol Policies and Legislation Review, including that the Northern Territory should reinstate an Alcohol and Other Drug Court, at a public forum in Darwin today (July 17).

“The impact of alcohol misuse in the Northern Territory has been well-documented over many years and through Jesuit Social Services’ work with people who have contact with the criminal justice system, we know how often alcohol misuse intersects with criminal activity,” says Jesuit Social Services’ General Manager in the Northern Territory Jared Sharp.

“Our submission to the review focuses on reducing demand through early intervention and prevention measures, as well as harm reduction measures predominately through strong investments in rehabilitation and therapeutic approaches.”

Mr Sharp says a Substance Misuse Assessment and Referral for Treatment (SMART) Court previously operated for 18 months in Darwin, to hear criminal matters in local courts for defendants with histories of drug and/or alcohol problems.

“A model like this, and the successful Drug Court in Victoria, allows judges to impose treatment orders instead of custody when an individual is found guilty of an offence,” says Mr Sharp.

“Steering people away from prison where possible, and providing them opportunities to address the underlying issues behind their offending, is an evidence-based way to prevent further re-offending.”

Mr Sharp says while the SMART Court had made a positive impact, it was curtailed by restrictions such as the fact it did not sit in regional centres or remote communities, and some offences were excluded.

“Learnings from the SMART Court should be applied to a new Alcohol and Drug Court which will benefit both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members of the community,” says Mr Sharp.

Mr Sharp also calls on the Northern Territory Government to reinstate the CREDIT/Bail program which ran in conjunction with the SMART Court. The bail diversion program provided residential or outpatient drug treatment to people whose offending was related to substance misuse.

“As with the Alcohol and Drug Court, this program would need to have a strong cultural focus to allow for effective interventions and strengthen Aboriginal participants’ connection to culture.”

Jesuit Social Services’ submission also calls for an end to paperless arrests, mandatory sentencing and the Alcohol Mandatory Treatment scheme.

Media enquiries – Kathryn Kernohan, 0409 901 248 or kathryn.kernohan@jss.org.au

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