Other specialist courts, lists and diversion programs

10.53  There are other specialist courts that address criminogenic factors, such as drug addiction and mental health issues. These courts are available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but are not specific to them. Diversion programs—which divert a defendant or offender out of the criminal justice stream in order to address such factors prior to trial or sentencing—can also assist some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who come before the courts. Some examples of these courts and diversion programs that were drawn to the ALRC’s attention during this Inquiry are described briefly below.

Specialist courts

The Drug Court of NSW

10.54  The Drug Court of NSW is a specialist court that takes referrals from the NSW Local Court or the District Court of NSW. The Drug Court sits in Parramatta, Toronto and Sydney[96] and aims to address drug dependencies related to criminal offending.[97] Issues of drug dependency are addressed through intensive case management between court teams, community agencies, and the judge. It is also achieved through participant sanctions for non-compliance with program conditions—including the sanction of imprisonment, which is used as a last resort. Participants are regularly tested for drugs.[98] The registrar and Drug Court team considers the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants in determining the number of places available.[99]

10.55  In 2008, a NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research evaluation of the Drug Court showed it to be more cost effective than prison in reducing the rate of reoffending among offenders whose crime was drug-related.[100] This included a 38% decrease in recidivism for a drug offence during the follow-up period, and a 30% decrease in recidivism for a violent offence.[101]

Victorian Neighbourhood Justice Centre

10.56  The NJC employs Koori Justice Workers to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients and provide advice to the Court in relation to culturally specific programs and services.[102] The NJC also holds a monthly Aboriginal Hearing Day during which all cases involving Aboriginal defendants are heard, in order ‘to provide better support for Aboriginal clients and to increase court attendance’.[103]

10.57  The NJC was evaluated in 2010. It was found that recidivism rates for participants reduced by 7%. The opening of the NJC also aligned with a reduction in the crime rate in the City of Yarra by 12% in the first two years.[104] A later 2015 AIC evaluation of the NJC revealed that

[T]he City of Yarra has the highest crime rate of any Victorian Local Government Area (LGA) other than the City of Melbourne, with an aggregate crime rate in 2007–08 of around 18,000 per 100,000 population… In the period after the NJC was established, crime rates in Yarra have fallen, with a 31 percent decline in total crime, largely as the result of a 40 percent decline in property crime. Crime rates have generally fallen in Victoria over the same period… but the decline in Yarra is greater than that observed in comparable inner urban LGAs… or LGAs with high levels of social disadvantage[105]

Court diversion programs and specialist lists

10.58  Court diversion programs allows judicial officers to adjourn matters while defendants engage in support services. These diversion programs can provide services for people accused or convicted in the summary jurisdiction who require assistance with addiction or mental health issues.

10.59  Diversion programs include, but are not limited to:

  • the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Court Alcohol and Drug Assessment Service, which incorporates drug and alcohol counselling during court proceedings or as part of sentencing orders.[106]
  • the Statewide Community and Court Liaison Service (SCCLS) (NSW) is a service of the Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network. This service provides court-based identification and assessment of defendants with mental health issues and cognitive impairments, resulting in a pathway for diversion under section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (NSW).
  • the Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program (NSW), which was launched as a pilot in September 2017 in the Gosford and Penrith Local Courts. The program involves expanding the SCCLS to include court-based identification, assessment and diversion of defendants with cognitive impairment, and linking them with the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
  • Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment program (NSW and Queensland), which allows people whose offending is related to their substance abuse issues to voluntarily enter into rehabilitation as part of the bail process;[107]
  • the NT Mental Health List, which was established as a pilot in 2016 in Darwin. The list diverts all defendants with possible mental health issues or cognitive impairments to this list. The Court relies on a ‘therapeutic framework that allows for the management and treatment of such offenders’.[108]
  • the Victorian Court Integrated Services Program,[109] which includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled and mainstream organisations;[110] and
  • the Victorian Assessment and Referral Court list, which provides ‘case management to participants including psychological assessment, referral to welfare, health, mental health, disability, housing services and drug and alcohol treatment’.[111]