Drug courts and more rehabilitation services needed in regional and remote areas

Peak body Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) has welcomed the findings of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the provision of drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote NSW and its raft of key recommendations, including the greater use of special Drug and Koori Courts and rehabilitation programs.

ALS was pleased to provide a detailed submission to the Inquiry, based on the results of a series of community forums and a survey which overwhelmingly found that there were insufficient rehabilitation services in Aboriginal communities.

“We’ve long-said that there is an urgent need for the greater use of both specialist Drug Courts and Koori Courts within the criminal justice system, with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation, not incarceration,” ALS Chair, Bunja Smith, said.

“The Youth Koori Court at Parramatta has been effective in reducing re-offending among young people and earlier this year funding for a second pilot Youth Koori Court was announced for Surry Hills.

“It’s therefore crucial that the Government now adopt the Report’s recommendations that Koori Courts for both youths and adults also be trialled in regional and remote parts of the State, particularly in areas like Dubbo.

“We’re calling on the Attorney General to support the proposal presented to his office to establish a District Koori Court – the Walama Court that has been developed and has overwhelming support from the Legal Sector, Corrective Services and the NSW Police.

“We know that community-led solutions, involving Elders, ALS staff and culturally-appropriate members, can support Aboriginal people engaged with the criminal justice system by tackling the social issues such as housing, education, homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse, which can unfortunately trigger re-offending.

“The Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment Program (MERIT) should also be expanded to allow courts in regional areas to access these vital services.

“The current patchy provision of service means that the most isolated and disadvantaged Aboriginal people in places such as Walgett and Tumut, are unable to access this basic service. Combatting addiction can be the difference between life and death for many ALS clients. If we have any chance of reducing the shameful rates of Aboriginal incarceration, then the Government must act on this report.”

Chair Smith said ALS also supports the provision of traineeships to assist in upskilling Aboriginal workers in the provision of rehabilitation services, which will create employment opportunities and in the long term, facilitate more culturally inclusive service provision.