Call for Ballarat drug court

Ballarat desperately needs a specialised drug court to slash recidivism rates and address the root cause of many crimes, experts say. 

Legal Aid  Executive Director, Criminal Law Services Helen Fatouros said an extension of the Dandenong and planned Melbourne drug courts  program was needed in regional Victoria. 

She said the therapeutic based program was “a far more effective way with dealing with drug related offending, instead of putting (offenders) in jail and creating revolving door”.

The first government review of the court found  that the $30 million cost of operating the Dandenong Court since 2002 had created a net saving of $50 million in prison costs for Corrections Victoria.

“In regional Victoria the impact of drug related offending – drug addiction and ice addiction is even more challenging than in Melbourne.,” Ms Fatouros said.

“The impact of ice addiction ravages families and communities, one of the issues of not having a drug court and other therapeutic options … (is that) regional Victorians who need the support … are missing out on being rehabilitated.” 

Ballarat UnitingCare drug and alcohol clinician Cheryl Hamence works with dozens of people who have lost everything through drug addiction – primarily ice. 

“Drugs are the underlying issue. Most of the clients that come through our services and have committed offences have been drug or alcohol affected. The ice epidemic … is fairly rife,” Ms Hamence said

Drug courts provide sentencing and supervision of treatment of offenders who have a committed an offence under the influence or drugs or alcohol or to support that habit. 

The initiative was developed in response to a perceived failure of the tradition system to address drug use and offending. 

Victorian Alcohol and Drugs Association executive officer Sam Biando said there was a need for the legal system to shift towards rehabilitation. A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Martin Pakula could not confirm if Ballarat was being considered as a regional location in need of a drugs court. 

"We will closely evaluate the impact of the Melbourne Drug Court and any future decisions will be based on the outcome and budget,” she said.