“AT LEAST” three-in-four people who front the Hunter’s Drug Court are there because of “ice,” according to two of the court judges.
Senior Judge Roger Dive said ice and methamphetamine users accounted for about 75 per cent of his work.
“The use of ice, and methamphetamine, has certainly increased over several years now, and tragically, it is affecting a lot of communities, including rural and regional areas,” Judge Dive said. “It is a growing problem, and I understand it to be readily available, and cheap, so it becomes a drug of choice.”
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Judge Dive had watched the use of heroin decrease, but methamphetamine become much more prevalent in his 14 years as a senior judge of the Drug Court.
The court aimed to help program participants overcome their drug dependence, and criminal offending, to break the cycle.
“If they are pleading guilty to non-violent crime, and their crime relates to them being addicted to drugs, the local court or the district court can refer them to Drug Court,” he said.
“Drug Court imposes the jail sentence that they should get for those crimes.
“But before that sentencing happens, a whole lot of work is done with the Health Department and Community Corrections to put together a plan for them to be managed in the community, or put into rehab, instead of serving that sentence. The sentence is suspended while they do that plan.”
Good results, including “clean” tests, are applauded.
The judge claps each program participant for achieving their objectives.
Bad results are sanctioned.
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“If they are successful, we actually have a graduation ceremony, and sandwiches and speeches, and they do not go back to jail,” Judge Dive said. “But if they are unable to take up this opportunity and do it, they are returned to jail to serve their sentence.”
He said 88 people, including 29 from the Hunter, graduated last year.
Judge Paul Cloran agreed the majority of people he saw at Drug Court had a problem with methamphetamine, ice in particular.
“At least 75 per cent. Maybe more,” he said. “We can encourage, and try to motivate, but unless they are willing to participate and fully engage in the program, there is not much we can do.
“There is nothing more satisfying than seeing people who were in a hopeless situation when they came onto the program turn their lives around. More than 50 per cent of people on the program don’t go back to jail.”
Judge Dive said that judges magistrates were looking for a “sensible solution”, and the intensive Drug Court program was an opportunity for change.
“I think it’s really important. It is good for the community too,” Judge Dive said.
“While just deserts and punishment is a logical thought when your house is broken into and your things are stolen, if someone is drug-addicted and may be breaking into houses every day, then if we can actually break that cycle, and stop them breaking into somebody else’s house, the community benefits from that,” he said.
“Sometimes we are the first sensible, caring, able people who have been involved in their lives.
“Sometimes their parenting has been appalling, or their parents were drug addicts, or they have been in care and been to 17 different schools.
“And suddenly there is a group of sensible, able people who are able to help them get their teeth fixed, organise housing, see a psychiatrist for their mental health, go to TAFE and get a job, which, in some cases, they’ve never had a job before.
“It has been a very successful program in Newcastle.”