FOUR years since it opened its doors at Toronto, the Hunter Drug Court continues to be the court of constant surprises.
You can’t pick who’ll make it and who’ll fall short.
Nor can you pick who fell into drugs in their 30s or when they were in primary school.
‘‘The [participants] have been damaged individually, they’ve got to be fixed individually,’’ Judge Paul Cloran believes.
The Drug Court participants are referred from the Hunter Region’s criminal courts.
There are 80 positions at any one time with 135 offenders referred in 2013.
Only 44 made it to phase two of the program in 2013, 20 of those made it to phase three and nine graduated.
But don’t be fooled by the figures. There are plenty of success stories from those who leave without graduating.
They might be a woman who is finally drug free with a partner in jail who is about to be released and, with the blessing of the Drug Court team, she flees to stay away from him.
A father who has finally got his children back from the Department of Family and Community Services might be deemed stable enough to leave the program and take on the role of carer.
All participants begin with a two-week detoxification in jail before embarking on the initial phase of drug testing three times a week.
The Drug Court team prepares a plan for the participant, which includes meetings with health workers and Community Corrections on a regular basis.
Phase two focuses on developing life skills and preparing for employment, while phase three is about gaining employment, financial stability and, of course, remaining drug and crime free.
‘‘The drug testing is standard, but the rest of [the program] is tailored to the individual,’’ Judge Cloran explains.
A parenting course might be of great assistance to a young mother, volunteer work one day a week might benefit a young man who has never had a job.
‘‘It’s all about horses for courses.’’
The stories are tragic.
Many start using drugs before reaching their teens, maybe cannabis and alcohol to begin with.
They might progress to amphetamines and eventually ice during their teens.
Year 9 is considered ‘‘educated’’ at Drug Court with many participants battling illiteracy and innumeracy.
‘‘We had one who was introduced to cannabis by the babysitter when they were six,’’ Judge Cloran recalls.
‘‘We had another who received their first shot of heroin from their mother.’’
What follows once addiction takes hold is an unrelenting search for cash and kind to feed the habit via shoplifting, burglaries and other thefts and frauds.
Crime leads to jail followed by further offending as the addiction remains.
As long as they’re not violent or a sex offender or heavily involved in drug supply, the offender can be referred to the Drug Court.
The Hunter Drug Court team comprises Judge Cloran, two solicitors from the DPP, a police prosecutor, two solicitors from Legal Aid, six health workers and four from Community Corrections.
They meet on Monday mornings where ‘‘everything is laid out in the open’’.
The team has drug test results, police intel, reports from Community Corrections, psychologists and the Department of Family and Community Services.
The amount of data that can be collected is staggering.
From there, a key component is instilling confidence.
‘‘Most of them have been told they’re dumb and if they go to do a course they might be worried that someone might find out about their background,’’ Judge Cloran reflects.
‘‘You’ve got to instil confidence in them that they can do this.
‘‘Some are most afraid of getting a job – they’re welfare dependent ... sometimes it’s a fear of doing something new.’’
While ice and other amphetamines are the main drugs of choice, the abuse of prescription medication is prolific also.
But there is a way out.
Even the most hardened of Hunter police, accustomed to dealing with the same offenders day in day out, attest to the success of the program.
Police prosecutor Steve Rae often receives emails from officers who have come in contact with graduates.
‘‘They’ll actually take the time to email me and say ‘we ran into such-and-such the other day and couldn’t believe the difference’,’’ Sergeant Rae recalls.
‘‘That’s why we call it the court of constant surprises.’’
DANIELLE* has spent nine straight Christmases in jail.
She was drawn to drugs relatively late in life when her marriage collapsed and she fell in with the wrong crowd.
She went straight to speed and ice and a life of crime to sustain her habit and feed her children.
‘‘I’d spend all day out at shopping centres stealing,’’ she said.
‘‘I had to steal food for them [the children] because I’d spent all our money on drugs and then I’d have to steal even more to feed my habit.’’
All up, Danielle reckons she’s served nine years behind bars over the better part of two decades.
At least one of her children got to the point where they didn’t want anything to do with her and then someone recommended the Drug Court.
‘‘I thought if I said yes I could get out of jail and get on the run again,’’ she said.
Instead, Danielle served seven weeks behind bars to detoxify before she got out, started the program and was back inside three months later for returning to her old ways.
‘‘I told them to put me back in,’’ she recalled.
‘‘To me it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t have anywhere to live, I was trying to get work and I was still using.
‘‘But [the team] all got behind me and got me to start believing in myself.’’
Danielle graduated from the Drug Court late last year after 18 months.
It is possible to complete the program in a year, but with missteps along the way it typically takes participants longer.
Danielle has a job and keeps her receipts after getting the groceries.
‘‘I’d never paid for anything before,’’ she explained.
‘‘I now go to the shops and pay for everything.’’
*name has been changed