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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 380 ..

Magistrates referral program (Question No 367)

Mr Cornwell asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 18 February 2003:

In relation to the New South Wales Magistrates Referral Program (MERIT) pilot program:

(1) Has the Attorney-General seen details of the program which offers drug treatment before sentencing as a voluntary option for first offenders and that 60 percent of participants had never had any contact with a health service;

(2) Will the Government consider introducing MERIT in the ACT;

(3) Are there ACT statistics available about addicts and their access to health facilities in the ACT;

(4) Can more details of MERIT be obtained, eg. the comparable costs of such treatment versus sentencing, and can these details, if available, be provided to interested persons, including myself.

Mr Stanhope: The answer to the member's question is as follows:

At the Council of Australian Governments meeting on drugs in April 1999, all States

and Territories agreed to a national approach to the diversion of drug offenders into treatment programs. The Commonwealth agreed to fund, under the National Illicit Drug Strategy (NIDS), initiatives to divert illicit drug users from prosecution and custodial sentences into drug treatment.

The New South Wales Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) is a program funded by the National Illicit Drug Strategy. It commenced as a pilot scheme in July 2000 in Lismore.

The ACT Government has a strong interest in non-custodial sentencing options. This is seen in the current Sentencing Review, which will consider extending the existing use of diversionary programs along with other non-custodial sentencing options.

In 1989 the Drugs of Dependence Act (1989) introduced the Treatment Referral Program in the ACT which enables a magistrate or judge, as part of the sentence imposed, to instruct a charged person to undergo a treatment order to reduce or substitute for a custodial sentence.

This program applies to people who have either committed a crime to get drugs, or money for drugs, or while under the influence of drugs. It currently applies only to those drugs which appear in Schedule 4 of the Act, which does not include alcohol. The treatment is overseen by a Treatment Assessment Panel, and conducted by an approved treatment agency. The treatment can be for a period of 6 months up to 2 years. Clients who fail to complete their treatment order may revert to a custodial sentence.

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