ONE man has missed a couple of drug tests after a tough week. Another has walked out of a rehabilitation centre and wants to be with his family.
One gets a chance to stay on the outside. The other is returned to jail for two weeks.
Welcome to Drug Court.
The men are but two participants of the first intake of the Hunter Drug Court and Senior Judge Roger Dive, who oversaw the establishment of the court earlier this year, is already looking forward to the first graduation party later this year.
‘‘The jury is not out any more,’’ Dive said this week.
‘‘We know this works. It’s more effective than jail, it’s cheaper than jail and the community benefits greatly.’’
Participants who qualify for the program begin their journey in jail where they detoxify for three or so weeks.
During that time, the Drug Court team prepares a treatment plan that can include counselling, drug rehabilitation, home visits, curfews and medication.
From there, the participant undergoes regular drug testing to ensure they remain ‘‘clean’’.
Non-compliance, whether by providing ‘‘dirty’’ test results or no tests or by not complying with the conditions of the program, results in points being accrued in a similar manner to demerit points for drivers.
Accrue too many points and it’s back to jail; for a short time only.
Dive said more than half of the participants did not return to jail after their first stint.
‘‘It can take some of them time to truly believe that they can do it,’’ he said.
‘‘We know they can do it, but it takes time for them to realise that they can do it.’’
A large number of participants have trodden a sad, well-worn path that Dive described as ‘‘tragic and endless’’.
‘‘Alcohol at 12, cannabis at 14, then amphetamines, heroin, 17, 18,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s an endless picture moving up through the regime of drugs.
‘‘I can’t think of any heroin addict who didn’t start with alcohol and cannabis as a young person.
‘‘Sometimes I think we’re the first sensible people in their lives and taking an interest in them and so they enjoy coming to court.’’
The Hunter Drug Court is identical to the Western Sydney Drug Court in how it operates and how it is resourced.
The only difference Dive said he had seen from the Hunter’s participants in comparison to their city cousins was the greater number of offenders here charged with driving matters, something he put down to the ‘‘geographical nature’’ of the area.
THE stories behind the participants are similar also, but so are the success stories.
‘‘If you want a good picture you should be here at 10.30 to 11,’’ Dive said.
That’s when rounds of applause emanated from courtroom two as participants were congratulated for the progress they had made.
‘‘We had a woman this morning who took her children to the circus on the weekend,’’ Dive said.
‘‘I mean, this woman had the money and was able to take her children to Cirque du Soleil.
‘‘What a wonderful experience for her children and what an achievement for her.’’
Dive said he could recall the joy of children being able to pick out their own shoes.
‘‘After years of Mum going into the store, leaving the kids outside and ‘getting’ [stealing] the shoes, and getting whatever Mum was able to take, the kids can now go into the store, pick out the ones they want and have Mum pay for them,’’ he said.
BOTH the dangers of drugs and the cost to the community of drug use are well documented.
What has been particularly disturbing in Newcastle in recent years has been a series of high-profile drug operations that nabbed dozens of young people supplying and taking ecstasy and other amphetamines on a regular basis.
Dive said the court dealt with all sorts of drugs and addictions and warned drug users that ‘‘you don’t always get what you’re buying’’.
One participant underwent a drug test that returned a positive reading for a chemical used to treat intestinal worms in chickens, Dive recalled.
‘‘Who knows what’s in there,’’ he said.
‘‘We don’t test for that sort of stuff, but you’d be amazed at what turns up in these tests.’’
Central to the Drug Court’s success is the abandonment of the traditional adversarial court process.
A day in Drug Court begins at 9 or 9.30am with the ‘‘team’’ sitting around the boardroom-style bar table to discuss each case.
The team includes the judge, prosecutors (both police and the Department of Public Prosecutions), solicitors, health workers and probation and parole staff.
‘‘We work together,’’ Dive said.
‘‘And that’s quite an unusual thing to have all of those government agencies and non-government agencies working together and yet it works so well and we share information so we know what’s going on.
‘‘The police, the prosecutors, everyone seems to have embraced the court.’’
The court usually opens to the clients and the public at 10am.
Some are sentenced and know from the outset how long they will be jailed for if they don’t comply with the program.
There are three phases to the program and the Hunter now has three participants in the final stage.
However, not finishing the program is not necessarily a failure.
‘‘Lots of people achieve a great deal without graduating,’’ Dive said.
‘‘If they’ve got a job [and] it’s full-time, it can be difficult doing all the tests and complying with the program and they might decide to terminate and are not returned to jail.’’
As well as a graduation ceremony, the participants receive certificates for completing each phase.
Sometimes it’s the only acknowledgement of achievement the clients have ever received.
‘‘We had a man laminate his certificate for finishing phase two,’’ Dive noted.
‘‘It was the first time he’d ever been given a certificate for anything.
‘‘We had a 41-year-old man bring a payslip in and it was the first payslip he’d received in his life. That’s of huge benefit to the community.’’
WHAT many people do not realise is that many of the crimes committed by drug addicts do not result in an arrest.
Only a tiny fraction of break and enters result in someone being caught and the return on stolen property sold on the black market is minuscule.
Dive said a drug addict might be able to steal $10,000 worth of property from a home, but that might only result in $150 cash to the addict once they have offloaded it.
‘‘We’ve had offenders performing seven break and enters a day to come up with the money to feed their habit,’’ Dive said.
The drug court does not accept people charged with violent or sexual offences, nor does it accept people with violent backgrounds who would pose a risk if they were released back into the community.
The participants are sentenced as if they appeared before a local court magistrate or a district court judge, however the sentence is suspended while they take part in the program.
The Hunter may have had to wait a long time for its Drug Court, but the wait was worth it.
After more than a decade sitting at the Western Sydney Drug Court in Parramatta, Dive said his team was able to hone the program to a fine art so the Toronto court hit the ground running when it opened in March.
He brought with him many of the senior staff who worked at Parramatta and sat on the bench at Toronto himself before handing over to Judge Paul Cloran.
Dive is now looking forward to the first graduation ceremony.
‘‘Parents hug me and tell me that I’ve given their son back, or brothers tell me that they’ve got their brother back,’’ Dive said.
‘‘Children no longer see their mothers stealing from the shops every time they go, they’re getting a better education now than they ever did.’’