Thousands avoid drug sentences
October 3, 2006 - 12:12PM
More than 15,000 illegal drug users in Victoria have been given a second chance in a program diverting them from the justice system into treatment.
A new report released today shows 15,477 Victorians avoided a criminal record as a result of a drug treatment diversion program that began in 2000.
The report, launched by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, details the results of a combined state and federal initiative, which includes a range of programs to tackle drug use.
The initiative aims to acknowledge drug use as a health program and get people into treatment and back into the community.
Launching the report, Mrs Nixon said the initiative provided an opportunity for health and law enforcement agencies to work hand-in-hand to tackle drug use as a social, health and policing issue.
"I have no doubt this intervention has saved lives and prevented further crimes," she said.
The diversion program is available to people who have been arrested for an illicit drug-related activity or an offence where the person's drug use is a clear factor in their offending.
It can include a range of drug treatments, from education through to counselling, drug withdrawal and rehabilitation, with the overall goal to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system and drug-related crime.
Under the program, a person arrested for using or possessing a small amount of cannabis can be cautioned and offered the chance to attend an education session instead of appearing before a court.
Alternatively, a person arrested for using or possessing other illegal drugs is cautioned on the condition they will undertake a drug assessment and start drug treatment, and this happens within five days of arrest.
The report, A Better Way Forward, shows 66 per cent of participants completed their treatment.
But Ms Nixon warned it was still an offence to use or possess illicit drugs in Victoria and it was up to individuals to control whether they would reoffend.
"These programs enable police to refer illicit drug users to timely health interventions," she said.
"It is then up to that individual if they choose to accept a lifeline."
Victorian Chief Magistrate Ian Gray said the diversion program gave magistrates a greater range of sentencing options and also resulted in a safer community.