Fighting poverty via the Drug Court

Fighting poverty via the Drug Court

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Do drugs cause poverty or does poverty cause drugs?

It’s a complicated question worthy of a thesis, and one that Bill Grimshaw grapples with every day in his role as a lawyer in the Drug Court in Melbourne, which aims to rehabilitate offenders with drug dependency and reintegrate them into the community.

It’s also a particularly relevant question during Anti-Poverty Week, which seeks to shine a light on the causes and consequences of poverty in Australia.

‘One obvious association between drugs and poverty is that drug addiction is a rapid path to pennilessness, and the clients we see in the drug court have been daily users for years.

‘Typically, this means using about a gram or two of ice or heroin a day, at a cost of over $100. So, by the time they reach the Drug Court, our clients have long ago burned through their assets and income, to say nothing of relationships and job prospects,’ said Bill.

Not only does addiction cause poverty, but poverty can cause and significantly contribute to addiction.

‘Before our clients enter the Drug Court they undergo a comprehensive assessment.

‘Their history typically features broken homes, abusive parents, fleeting education and sporadic employment.

‘Needless to say, there aren’t too many old-school ties or ski trips amongst my clientele.

‘When addiction takes hold, people get stuck in a vicious cycle – their addiction results in offending to fund the addiction, the offending leads to a criminal record and unexplained resume holes (i.e. prison), and this leads to unemployment, a miserable and impoverished life and the temptation to find solace in drugs.

‘It takes inhuman resolve to stop using drugs when you’re on Newstart, have few or no healthy relationships or pastimes and live in a violent, unclean rooming house where there is rampant drug use.'

Image of Drug Court Lawyer Bill Grimshaw
Drug Court Lawyer Bill Grimshaw

As bleak as that seems, Bill believes it gets worse when the cycle revolves into the next generation, causing entrenched poverty and further misery.

‘We certainly see clients in the drug courts who come from a long line of people who never stood a chance.’

Apart from supporting those attempting to break the hold of addiction, the Drug Court also seeks to improve the financial stability of participants.

‘For a Drug Court participant to graduate from the program they must have stable accommodation and either have a job or be involved in formal study.

‘The court has relationships with housing, employment and training services that are contracted to help with these goals.

‘The court also recognises that it isn’t enough to coerce people into stopping drug use. For there to be a lasting recovery, people need the dignity, purpose and social connection that comes with a decent place to live and a job or study course.’

Whilst keenly aware that some in the community see the Drug Court as waste of taxpayer funds that should be spent on more worthy programs, Bill believes the Drug Court actually assists in the fight against poverty.

‘Although I don’t like to think of our clients in terms of a cost/benefit analysis, a 2014 KPMG evaluation of the Drug Court found that putting a person through our program costs about quarter of what it costs to imprison them, and the post-sentence recidivism rate is 34 per cent lower.

‘This is a telling statistic because all Drug Court participants have reached the point at which they would go to prison if they were not released onto a drug treatment order.

‘Other fiscal benefits to the community include a reduction in medical and mental health presentations, and a decrease in demand upon other relevant services, including housing and other supports.

‘This in turn frees up scarce government funds to help lift other people out of poverty too,’ said Bill.

More information

Learn more about the Drug Court on the Magistrates' Court of VIctoria website.

Read about Anti-Poverty Week

Read the KPMG evaluation of the Drug Court of Victoria

Read our news story, Victorian Drug Court comes to Melbourne

Was this helpful?