Drug court comes to regional Victoria

By Cassandra Power

PEOPLE in Echuca who face drug-related criminal charges may soon avoid prison sentences with the expansion of Drug Court into regional Victorian cities of Ballarat and Shepparton.

Drug court is a diversion program consisting of two parts: a custodial sentence not exceeding two years which is to be served in the community and a treatment and supervision plan which aims to address the offenders drug and alcohol related dependency.

The program is designed to keep people out of prison to focus on their recovery and to reduce their chance of re-offending.

Up to 120 offenders in regional Victoria will have access to the program under the $35 million expansion.

Local criminal defence attorney Matt Hardy said it would be fantastic if Echuca residents had access to the court.

“It would be really important for the area,” he said.

“Even if these programs only helped one person, there is not doubt it would benefit the community.

“Drug use is all around the nation, it’s not far removed from any individual.

“Drug court is such a good process because the accused are held accountable, with drug screens, counselling and weekly meetings where they talk about how they’re coping.

“They really try to get to the root of the problem and get people healthy.”

Legal Aid Victoria Goulburn region manager Erica Molynaux said the expansion was ‘a very positive’ development for the district.

“Helping people with substance dependence problems helps people build better lives, makes the community stronger, and reduces pressure on our local court,” she said.

“As a community, we need to break the cycle of poverty, drug dependence and prison, we know drug court is a powerful tool in doing just that.”

Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said existing drug courts in Melbourne have shown some successful results including a reduction in re-offending, an improvement to community safety and a decreased burden on the courts and corrections system.

“We know that the Drug Court has a tangible impact on keeping people out of prison, keeping the community safe and delivering social and economic benefits,” she said.

“Investing in programs that reduce the underlying causes of crime will reduce costs involved with the criminal justice system in the long term.”