Tom Melville 0:00 This episode has some bad language. So please keep that in mind. Hi, I'm Tom Melville, and welcome to voice of real Australia. Each episode we bring your people, places and perspectives from beyond the big cities. Way back in Episode Six, we brought you the story of a community fighting to get a drug court, a court which gives some drug offenders the opportunity to avoid prison by getting cleaned. It's just been announced that after a decade's long campaign, the people of dubbo are getting their drug court. In Devonport on Tasmania's northwest coast, the court mandated diversion program, as it's known, has been giving drug addicts a second chance for a number of years. Sandy Powell is the court reporter for the advocate. He takes us behind the scenes of the CMD program to see the difference it's making in people's lives. Well, we've
Magistrate Jago 0:47 made it Today's a very special day. Mr. I have received a report that recommends that you graduate from the CMD program today.
Sandy Powell 0:58 This is not I imagine what most people would expect a courtroom to sound like. I can tell you from experience that typically tense, serious and quiet places.
Magistrate Jago 1:08 I reviewed your file before coming into court today. And it's exemplary.
Sandy Powell 1:17 Here in the Devonport Magistrates Court on a Thursday in early 2021. magistrate Tamara Jago is full of congratulations and enthusiasm. And absolutely remarkable job, I could not be any prouder of you because so well she should be because the man she is speaking to has just completed a program which has helped him take control of his drug addiction. And which means he will no longer have to serve a six month jail term. We'll call him Steven,
Steven 1:43 I am drawn to get off the drugs a couple of times prior to getting put on the program. And just I couldn't seem to do it. And I needed to program to hold me accountable. So I had the willpower to be able to do it. I knew I wanted to do I just it's a lot harder. We know everyone you associate with on drop.
Magistrate Jago 2:04 Since you came onto this program. You have just been extraordinary in terms of your commitment, in terms of your willingness to do the hard work, in terms of your ability to say NO to temptation and to have a mindset that you wanted to turn your life around and achieve things for you and your family. And you've just ticked every box.
Sandy Powell 2:29 After a nearly 30 year drug addiction, which started when he was just 12 years old, a child, Steven was back before the court on drug possession charges. Magistrate Jago sentenced him into the court mandated drug diversion program, which essentially gives criminal offenders the choice between jail or intensive drug rehabilitation. As a single parent of three kids, six months jail was just not an option for Steven and yourself.
Steven 2:55 You think you've got control. It's all good, everything's sweet. But in reality you don't. I will never go back to them again. Where I am in life now, I've always wanted to be but never could get there.
Sandy Powell 3:12 Where do you think you'd be without the program? Obviously you would have gone and spent six months in jail instead of being able to help kick your drug habbit
Steven 3:20 I'd still be in the same rut.Yeah, I honestly do believe that. The saddest thing of life is that you can get any getting job until I stop that traffic. You can be stuck in that rut. The only way to actually beat that is by having the programme
Sandy Powell 3:38 I'm Sandy Powell. And for the last two years I've reported from the court of Northwest Tasmania for the advocate. In this podcast, I'll be sharing Stephens story and detailing the sometimes surprising ways the CMD program deals compassionately with criminals who suffer from the disease of drug addiction
Steven 3:53 In the last two years I've bought a caravan. I take the kids away every school holidays. And to take the kids away for the school holidays it costs me about 390 bucks average. And that's just for the caravan sites, let alone the food and everything.
Sandy Powell 4:08 Being excited at the prospect of taking his kids on a holiday was not something Steven was able to even afford to think about before the court mandated rehabilitation. His priorities lay elsewhere.
Steven 4:20 I love caravaning, and my kids do they love getting out and away from and I just I never had the opportunity to be able to do that I do now. And to me that's more rewarding than for staying off the drugs Sandy Powell 4:33 actually afford to give your kids the life that you want to be able to get Yes, previously that money would have gone into methamphetamine.
Steven 4:42 Yeah, I never thought of the money because it'll depress around our staff started when I was 12. So I'm now 43 so it was a long period of my life so I don't think of the money because I know it's gonna depress me and and depression where a lot of goodwill originates from anyway, like that's when I started. I was in a depression when I first started the drugs largely absent throughout his childhood, Steven and his father never had a good relationship. We didn't talk for eight years. last eight years, my dad made a lot. He couldn't handle the way I wasn't, I wasn't going to stop it for him.
Sandy Powell 5:21 Despite that, after a brief stint in recovery in 2015, Steven relapsed when he found out his dad had died
Steven 5:27 His passing was pretty much one of the first reasons I reverted back to the drug scene. not blaming him, of course, it was just the hurt was a nice way to deal with the pain. So there was that my mom said that actually pulled me in line up a bit. And that's when I decided I really wanted to give up the drugs again. Which is why along the lines of I always used to say I wanted to ruin my dad last night. And she turned around, I mean, she said, we've always said you wanted to ruin your dad's last name well he's dead now. And it's not his name no more And I thought we'll find a way to fix this and when.
Anna Winter 6:17 So for a lot of our clients, they have a trauma background, they've never been addressed. Well, they seek to address it themselves through drug use.
Sandy Powell 6:24 Anna Winter is a team leader for the CMD program employed by the Department of Justice. She says CMD seeks to address the underlying cause of offending the magistrate
Anna Winter 6:34 works with the client and seeks to understand their story and where they come from. And rather than say, to punish them, it's you know, seeking to understand and put into place, plans to address what's going on. So it's not prosecutions and their legal counsels, facing off for one of the very word against each other. It's a group scenario. So all of the parties in the court are working together for the best outcome.
Sandy Powell 7:05 I interviewed Magistrate Jago who you heard in the court recording earlier. She said that work and I mentioned must start with a program participant themselves.
Magistrate Jago 7:14 You've got to be giving this program your role if you want to stay on this program. And if you don't, you will be going to jail.
Sandy Powell 7:22 Low Level criminal offenders can be sentenced into the program if their crimes have a direct connection to their addiction. They're then subject to rigorous monitoring throughout the program, which they have up to two years to complete.
Magistrate Jago 7:34 they're required to attend court mandated drug diversion offices weekly, sometimes bi weekly, for you know, counseling and and they're subject to several urinalysis awake now those your analysis for obvious reasons are done randomly. The way the program works is if people are continuing to use drugs, and they're detected through the urine analysis. They accrue what's called sanction days. People can also accrue what's called reward days, which, given if people participate and fully engage in things like drug counseling, if a participant accrues 14 sanction days, it's mandatory that they go and serve those sanction days in custody.
Sandy Powell 8:25 Devonport lawyer Kirsten Abercrombie spends a lot of her time in court, and knows just how different the approach of the drug court can be, and just how successful
Kirsten Abercromby 8:34 it's a therapeutic court. So it means that there's a little bit more latitude to be perhaps a little bit more colloquial, you can champion your client's cause and champion small things much more than in a formal court setting, you know, regular plea for someone pleading guilty to any type of matter. Normally, I wouldn't mentioned that they're a member of a sports team, or that necessarily that they volunteer, or that they've worked with child protection, to have their children returned to them on a weekend or a part time basis. Normally, that kind of thing was afforded a small mention but nothing being championed.
Sandy Powell 9:14 Despite the casual court atmosphere, Kirsten says rehabilitation is certainly not the easy way out.
Kirsten Abercromby 9:20 I think the community can fall into the trap of seeing rehabilitation as a word that's easily thrown around, or it can be portrayed to them as a soft option. CMD is not a soft option is a incredibly hard option, and it's one that participants have whether successful or not. I have the utmost admiration for because that program is taxing. It's lengthy. It's a difficult program to complete. The word rehabilitation, I think is served well by the CMT program.
Sandy Powell 9:54 Steven says he needed to be accountable to the CMA program to keep in line
Steven 10:00 It's the accountabilit, For me. Knowing that there was the jail time hanging over my head. And as a sole parent, I can't afford to guy to go because I don't have anyone else to support me with the kids and take them so that means that I have to organize temp care to put them in the temp care for the good duration of the sanctions and everything. So that was the biggest push on everything to get me off. Like get me through the program is me kids because in my life now
Sandy Powell 10:31 what really interested me when I was watching Stephens graduation was the way magistrate jago genuinely sound so proud of him. I was struck by how the mood of the court was one of teamwork and positive affirmation. I asked Stephen, if there's encouragement motivated him through the program,
Steven 10:48 Yeah the encouragement because they classes up. I look at him as my genuine Judge Tamara Jag I've actually had a lot of dealings with over my life, I had a very violent history, bought a lot of assault charges and stuff. And I've always been polite and courteous to just have a lot of respect for her. She's a straight shooter. And I like straight shooters. When I found out that she was a judge, it was like Oh, shit, this could go one of two ways. I had to prove to a straight up that I had no problems with. And it took me a couple months, but I did it. And I'm once earned respect on it all. It never stopped. Yeah, that respect clearly goes both ways. Now, yeah. And every quarter appearance every month, like massively praise me. It was a big thing to hear from from someone in such a high role that you were doing awesomely, and I like Shadow a deed respected
Anna Winter 11:46 is a deliberate forming of a professional therapy relationship between the magistrate and the participant.
Sandy Powell 11:54 This is CMD, team leader anna winter,
Anna Winter 11:58 and it takes a little while for the participant usually to come around to that because they're not used to either speaking to the magistrate directly or speaking so openly and honestly about their drug use when usually it's not that way in court. So it's more of a welcoming environment, in that they're able to speak about that kind of thing, particularly with prosecutions as well. They openly congratulate our clients, which is has an amazing healing effect as well.
Sandy Powell 12:29 The thing that I've noticed, particularly is that they're clearly not used to praise in any capacity a lot of the time is a potentially people who haven't been congratulated on something in a long time, that clearly means something to them doesn't.
Anna Winter 12:45 Absolutely, absolutely. So, particularly in the court environment, there is no usually, if they're standing in front of a magistrate, they're there because they've done something wrong. They've done something illegal, and they're going to get punished for it. In this environment, they may be punished if they do something wrong. But when something goes right, and they have those major breakthrough throughs, or they have significant periods of time where they're drug free, all the parties stand up and say well done. And that has a major effect on participants, they often come back and say to us, I've never had that. We present them with certificates when they reach significant milestones. You can say that transformation that that has on people who've come from backgrounds or lead a lifestyle for a significant period of time when that hasn't aged at all. So to see that have that public recognition of their progress is amazing.
Sandy Powell 13:46 magistrate jago, says she tries to celebrate the small gains
Magistrate Jago 13:49 drug addiction is an illness. It is a really, really complicated illness. There is no magic wand. So you can't expect people to go from chronic drug addict who pretty much is in a life that's spiraling out of control to a perfect participant in the program who's never going to return positive your analysis. That's just completely and utterly unrealistic. So you have to look for the small gains that these people make. And you have to always bear in mind that what we're actually trying to do is, if not get them to the ultimate end. We're trying to improve their life along the way.
Sandy Powell 14:32 Kirsten says it's the small wins that lead to the bigger victories.
Kirsten Abercromby 14:36 So it's about building them up and making them feel like they're supported. Like their wins are everyone's wins because they are all those little wins we'll build them towards we hope, an enjoyable time on the program and working towards something that everyone in society included will benefit from.
Sandy Powell 14:55 Despite the encouragement participants get from all sides while on the program. They do have Still face the incredible challenge of overcoming a drug addiction. And as magistrate jagow concedes, there are limited services available to manage the myriad complex issues which exist alongside drug addiction.
Magistrate Jago 15:11 Sadly, the northwest coast has limitations in terms of how many specialized counselors are available, but the CMD team will do their very best to fit whatever the catalyst for the drug addiction was with a form of counseling or a form of service provider that can actually try and address the originating cause is that lack of services inhibit the success of a lot of people on the program? Yes, it does. Because sometimes the original trauma that's led to the drug addiction is just so complex, they need really, really specialized assistance, and we just don't have it. And sometimes if you can't address the original cause of the drug addiction, then all you're really doing is dealing with the reaction to the original trauma rather than Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So for some people, the trauma has been so enormous, that without the specialized assistance, they're never quite going to get there. But, you know, for the main, we can give them enough that even if they don't ultimately successfully graduate from the CMD program, they've made gains as an individual
Sandy Powell 16:37 recovery from drug addiction is hard to maintain. And some participants go through the program more than once. Anna Winter says failed attempts can still provide benefits
Anna Winter 16:47 when they might not to say the first time and by that I mean graduation, they may have picked up the things along the way, they may have had the longest period, they've been drug free for a while. And although they might have returned to drug use, they still have that under their belt, they have those skills that they learned. So next time when they're ready, they can access those again. And we certainly believe that, you know, because people can change, they can come back and give it another guy. Maybe you know that previous time wasn't the right time in their life. But now they've reached that point where they can fully commit
Sandy Powell 17:18 Steven's recent graduation was from his second attempt at the program. I know he says he faced psychological challenges to a significant struggle he reflected on call someone the proverb, idle hands are the devil's workshop.
Steven 17:31 Big thing on the program, is you've got to preoccupy your time. So you're not sitting around thinking about the drugs. That's when I believe a lot of people relapse and back on the drugs and then go on and for their sanctions and stuff because they've got too much time sitting around. Maybe a voluntary side of things once registering on the CMD would be a good thing because it preoccupies your time. Being able to go andwork somewhere, even if it's unpaid because you're not allowed to work while you're on the program. At the Salvation Army or at one of the food co ops for the elderly people was up, you know, somewhere where you get that phone call and you got to leave at 12 o'clock when they don't get
Sandy Powell 18:17 that attitude of seeking ways to give back to the community while overcoming a drug addiction could only be a marker of same day success. Although CMD is only a sentencing option for lower level crimes. I asked Kirsten Abercrombie how the outcome compares to prison.
Kirsten Abercromby 18:33 The difference between the two is vast. What you have in prison is someone who has been incarcerated, often 23 hours out of the day, they are locked up with like minded people who similarly haven't managed to beat and elicit drug addiction. Often they are released to the same circumstances in which they went in. And so releasing someone after a 12 month prison stint. 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.
Sandy Powell 19:09 magistrate jago agrees.
Magistrate Jago 19:11 I was a defense lawyer for a very long time. I spent a lot of time in wisdom prison, and I saw a lot of people serve a lot of time, I'd have to honestly say very few of them came out better people than they went in. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes people have to go to jail. The crime they've committed is such that there is no other outcome that's appropriate other than a prison term. So 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.
Sandy Powell 19:55 Kirsten Abercrombie says the whole community benefits from the same day program.
Kirsten Abercromby 20:00 The ones that graduate from the program, invariably go on to lead what must be for them much nicer lives, they get their license back, they can find employment. And this is all defendants that I've represented the winner really use the community because not only is the community not faced with another person committing these crimes to fund their drug addiction, they're not faced with the inevitable huge cost that comes with locking them up. And they're rewarded by having that person becoming a functioning member of society.
Sandy Powell 20:34 During seventh graduation, magistrate Jagga, praised his achievements, and said that would not have been possible if she had sent him to jail.
Magistrate Jago 20:41 I think it's a really good story, because it just goes to show why this program is so important. If you'd been locked up, none of that would have happened, you would have come out, still be in the same, it's still being the same, right? I have no doubt you'd probably still be using, you know, your relationship with the kids would still be, you know, characterized. By some difficulties, you still wouldn't be earning, you know, your own money through your own business. Nothing much would have changed, but for the fact that life had gone on pause for, you know, the months you spent inside. So is there anything that that you can point to this time around that you felt was different or that you felt made it such that you just knew this time you're gonna do it and do it really well?
Steven 21:30 It was on the program, I thought force filming program released online. I wanted to be on the program. Yep. Yep. All right. Well, let's do it. Get rid of some jail time.
Sandy Powell 21:50 Now, a few months down the track from Stephens graduation. He is trying to run a small mowing business and raise his three children.
Steven 21:57 We still struggle. I'm not working yet because my youngest is ADHD. My second youngest is autistic and my eldest daughter's just six timing, she's 21. You get that in life, like you roll with the ripples. And we get where we do quite well.
Tom Melville 22:20 Thanks to Sandy Powell from the advocate for that story. And that's it for this episode of voice of real Australia. Thank you so much for listening. We want to hear from you. Please take part in our listener survey. The link is in our show notes. subscribe to the podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. If you like the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a five star rating on Apple podcasts really does help. And if you'd like to share your story, you can email voice at asked community media.com.au that's voice at Aust, a ust community media.com.au our Facebook page is facebook.com slash voice a real Australia. You can follow me on twitter at Tom Melville 124. Voice real Australia is recorded in the studios of the Newcastle Herald is produced by Laura Corrigan and me Your host Tom Melville, our editors at Gale Tomlinson and Chad Watson. This is an ACM podcast