A therapeutic approach at the County Court

A therapeutic approach at the County Court

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Our first participant in the new County Court Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court has been accepted into the program, with encouraging signs for the alternative sentencing model.

The number of hearings in the list is starting to build little more than a month since the start of the 12-month pilot, which if successful, could expand and be made permanent.

The County Court Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court (CCDATC) is a new division of the court that offers a different sentencing option for people facing court and who have a drug or alcohol dependency.

It builds on the experiences of drug courts both locally and in the United States, providing a strict but supportive regime of drug screens, counselling and court hearings.

We spoke to Senior Lawyer Naomi Newbound for a rundown of the CCDATC so far.

How does the CCDATC work?

It’s divided into three phases – stabilisation, consolidation and maintenance. In the early phases, the priority is to get the client to keep appointments and maintain honest and open communication with the case manager and other clinicians. There’s drug testing three times a week, court attendances once a week in the beginning, plus counselling. It’s about using a clear incentives and sanctions framework to encourage positive behaviour. Substance use reduction or elimination is seen as a longer-term goal.

Our first participant had a first hearing, how did it go?

Let’s call him Neville. Neville admitted to feeling nervous in social situations. Judge Higham congratulated him on turning up to the hearing despite his anxiety and fear and told Neville to call him ‘Judge’. He assured Neville that the court was a safe space, and that over time, he would grow accustomed to it.

That’s pretty unusual, isn’t it?

Yes, Judge Higham speaking directly to the participants seems a feature of hearings in the CCDATC. Judge Higham makes use of these occasions to remind participants of the benefits of the program, explaining that all members of the multi-disciplinary team work together to guide their recovery and that support is always available. The golden rule is that participants must be unfailingly honest with all members of the team and follow the rules of the program. In return, they have the unwavering support of their workers, who understand that the path to recovery often includes a number of setbacks.

Sounds very supportive

Supportive, but there is no doubt it is very intensive! Programs like this have the potential to transform lives and build safer communities. I hope there’ll be an expansion of the model and its principles, should the CCDATC be successful.

What will it take for it to be successful?

Well, it starts with getting more referrals through. Luckily, the CCDATC referral process is very simple, beginning with the CCDATC Registrar providing a date for a Directions Hearing. This hearing is to clarify whether the participant meets the strict eligibility criteria (including postcode eligibility), that they have a drug dependency, and they are not charged with an offence that would exclude them from a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order.

Where can I get help with referrals?

Our CCDATC team is happy to assist with the preparation of referrals, as well as appearances at directions hearings and subsequent determination and sentencing hearings. The team includes myself, lawyer Kirsten Matthews and legal assistance Alya Malaeb. We’ve been attending all the hearings and analysing the emerging trends in the application of the eligibility criteria. I can also be contacted directly at naomi.newbound@vla.vic.gov.au or on (03) 9269 0492.

More information

Check out our latest fee schedule and the CCDATC’s Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order Flowchart

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