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Tasmania's court-mandated diversion treats drug addiction as an illness

This is part two of Small Gains Court. Click here for part one.

Community Corrections officers Emma Bond and Anna Winter, team leader, implement the therapeutic aspects of the court-mandated diversion program. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Community Corrections officers Emma Bond and Anna Winter, team leader, implement the therapeutic aspects of the court-mandated diversion program. Picture: Brodie Weeding

When sentencing criminals to jail terms, judges in Tasmanian courts outline a few expected outcomes, including protection of the community.

They speak about personal and general deterrence, in that they are making an example of the defendant to deter them and society more broadly from committing similar crimes in the future.

They talk about vindication of the victim, to ensure the court is adequately just in their punitive measures.

And they discuss denunciation; condemnation of the criminal behaviour from the court as an arm of society at large.

The rehabilitation of the offender, to provide conditions which help them lead a law-abiding life, is also a necessary sentencing consideration.

But, as North-West Tasmanian Magistrate Tamara Jago said, jails are not environments which often foster rehabilitation.

POSITIVE FUTURES

Ms Jago runs the court-mandated drug diversion program across the Burnie and Devonport Magistrate courts, and said the rehabilitation outcomes of jail pale in comparison to that program.

"I was a defence lawyer for a very long time. I spent a lot of time in Risdon prison. I saw people serve a lot of time by way of prison sentences," she said.

"I'd have to honestly say, very few of them came out better people than they went in.

"Now, don't get me wrong, sometimes people have to go to jail. The crime they have committed is such that there is no other outcome that's appropriate, other than a prison term.

"But it is not a particularly rehabilitative focused environment."

Rehabilitation is the focus of the CMD program, and this year's graduation of a participant called Steven was an illustration of how the program can succeed in that focus.

Steven was sentenced into the program in February 2020 on drug possession charges.

He had previously been involved in the program but had not graduated, and though he managed a few years sober, the death of his father caused him to relapse.

TRAUMA

Steven said it was depression and mental illness that caused him to relapse.

"We didn't talk for the last eight years of my dad being alive. He couldn't handle the way I was and I wasn't going to stop it for him.

"Him passing was one of the first reasons I reverted back to the drug scene after the first time getting off it.

"I'm not blaming him of course, but it was just the hurt. It was the easiest way to deal with the hurt, and the pain."

Between trips across Tasmania's North-West Coast to build a mowing company, Steven sat down in Burnie to discuss his life of drug addiction. Picture: Sandy Powell

Between trips across Tasmania's North-West Coast to build a mowing company, Steven sat down in Burnie to discuss his life of drug addiction. Picture: Sandy Powell

CMD North-West manager Anna Winter, an employee of Community Corrections, said many drug addicted people have a traumatic past.

"For a lot of our clients... that has never been addressed, or they seek to address it themselves through drug use," she said.

Ms Winter said a key part of the CMD program is its "non-adversarial approach", in which the parties involved work together for the best oucome.

"Instead of simple prosecution and punishment, we look towards the more therapeutic side of things, which is addressing the underlying cause of the offending."

REHABILITATION 

When Ms Jago sentenced Steven into the program she also imposed a six month jail term, which he would have to serve if he did not comply with the rigorous and strict demands of the program.

"He moved through the program exceptionally quickly. I think the whole time he was on the program he did not return a single positive urinalysis."

Ms Jago said that if he was in jail for those six months he would not have been able to complete the program, access its counselling services and addiction programs, and ultimately take control of his drug habit.

"He's a completely different man that when he came into the system," she said.

Steven himself said he would have remained addicted to drugs, as you can get them in jail.

"I would still be in the same rut, I honestly do believe that. The saddest thing of life is the drugs you can get out here you can get in jail.

"Until they stop that trafficking into jail you're going to be stuck in that rut. The only way to beat that is by having the program."

Devonport Legal Aid defence lawyer Kirsten Abercromby. Picture: Simon Sturzaker

Devonport Legal Aid defence lawyer Kirsten Abercromby. Picture: Simon Sturzaker

Devonport defence lawyer Kirsten Abercromby said the rehabilitation outcomes between jail and the CMD program are "vast".

"What you have in prison is someone who has been incarcerated, often 23 hours out of the day," she said.

"They are locked up with like-minded people who similarly haven't managed to beat an illicit drug addiction. [And] often they are released to the same circumstances they went in.

"Releasing someone after a 12 month prison stint is, while I accept that prison is a necessary evil, is something that is not often successful in terms of achieving an end goal of rehabilitation."

The therapeutic model which CMD adopts is, Ms Jago says, an important way to seek progress.

"If we actually want to improve people's lives, and therefore give them the opportunity to break the cycle, and therefore improve things for the community, we have to try and give them rehabilitative programs."

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This story Small Gains Court: Rehabilitation and justice when jail is the last resort first appeared on The Advocate.