No juvenile drug court

SPECIALIST drug courts work on the basis that addiction is as much a health and social problem as it is a criminal one. By treating criminal behaviour – often robbery motivated by a need to obtain money for drugs – as a symptom of a deeper problem, the specialist courts hope to break the cycle of repeat offending by giving the individual a last chance to break the bonds of addiction.

While there will always be those who believe in punishment over rehabilitation, the early years of the NSW drug courts have generally been seen as encouraging.

The adult courts are still in place, but the state government has seen fit to disband a juvenile version of the main program – a change questioned by the NSW Law Society, the Salvation Army and others in the juvenile justice system.

It was late last year that Broadmeadow Children’s Court magistrate Bruce Williams, sentencing a young male who stole Nathan Tinkler’s Ferrari, called for a drug court to be established in the Hunter Region.

Now, Attorney General Greg Smith has disbanded the Youth Drug and Alcohol Court, which operated from Parramatta, Campbelltown and Glebe and took cases on referral from other children’s court magistrates, saying it was not proving cost-effective.

The government says it will save $4million a year from a scheme that could not be evaluated properly because it was only producing an average of 17 graduates a year. It says those going through the system will be sent to other drug and alcohol treatment programs but people familiar with the legal system say such alternatives are scarce or non-existent in the Hunter.

It may be, as the government says, that the juvenile scheme has problems. But experience shows, all too sadly, that young offenders often hone their criminal skills in mainstream detention centres.

If keeping young people out of jail is an aim – and it should be – then the government must provide appropriate alternatives to mainstream detention.

Hunter evictions

NEW figures showing a substantial increase in the numbers of Hunter home owners threatened with the loss of their property point to the condition generally described as ‘‘mortgage stress’’.

Last year, 214 Hunter home owners were served with Supreme Court writs of possession, up from 167 in 2010. Experience shows that about one in three of these writs end in properties being repossessed and sold. While the absolute number of evictions is small when compared to the number of Hunter families paying off mortgages, the increase is potentially a sign of a worrying trend.

Home ownership is deeply ingrained in the national psyche, and Australia has so far escaped the residential property meltdown that has afflicted Britain, the US and elsewhere. While the writ rate is worth watching as a sign of economic wellbeing, the good news is that the vast majority of Hunter households are holding comfortably on to their houses.

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