Drug Court Processes

Screening

The screening process is a preliminary process in determining an offender's suitability  to participate in a Drug Treatment Order. Suitability is determined against demographic, clinical and justice-related criteria:

  • Demographic: determines whether the participant is living in or has a significant connection to an area within the Dandenong or specified catchment area.
  • Justice: considers an offender’s eligibility for the program based on prior and current offences.
  • Clinical: confirms that a participant’s drug or alcohol abuse is a significant causal factor in the current and prior offences and also identifies any immediate intervention needs.

The screening also provides an opportunity for the offender to be provided with detailed information as to the expectations and requirements of the Drug Treatment Order, and therefore provide informed consent. 

The screening officer will also be able to identify areas where further reports are needed and determine immediate intervention / support requirements if required.

The length of a screening will vary depending on any language or communication barriers, and the need for immediate intervention and/or support, however most screening interviews are likely to take 45 minutes to an hour. 

If the Drug Court Magistrate rules that the offender is unsuitable, they will either sentence the offender or refer them back to the Magistrates’ Court for sentencing.

Assessment

The Drug Court assessment provides an in-depth examination of factors relating to a participant's offending behaviour, and allows for the development of plans which address the offender’s treatment and case management needs. The assessment will also identify the need for further specialist reports which may be required, such as psychological or neuropsychological reports. 

Once an offender has been deemed suitable for assessment by the Drug Court Magistrate the matter will be adjourned for a period of 3 weeks to allow for two separate assessments to take place. 

Where an offender is bailed during this time period, appointments for assessment will be made at the time of the Court hearing or within a few days of the hearing. 

Where an offender is remanded in custody, he/she will be informed that the two assessments will take place – generally by way of video link – within the next 3 weeks.

Each assessment will vary but should take approximately 1 ½ hours.

The case management assessment considers the offender’s:

  • legal history including previous convictions and penalties, imprisonment history and comments on current offences before the Court
  • family and social history, including cultural background and support networks
  • education and employment status
  • housing and accommodation needs, including the need for referral to the Drug Court Homelessness Assistance Program
  • general information regarding the offender’s background, current circumstances and presentation.

The clinical assessment considers the offender’s:

  • drug and alcohol use history
  • behavioural indicators
  • treatment history
  • health status
  • motivation to change.

The results of both assessments will be incorporated into the treatment plan that forms part of the Drug Treatment Order. Participants will be re-assessed periodically throughout the Order on the basis of changed circumstances, attainment of goals or unsatisfactory progress.

Should an offender be found suitable, a Drug Treatment Order will be imposed and the participant will be bound by the requirements of the Order effective immediately. If the Drug Court Magistrate rules that the offender is unsuitable, they will either sentence the offender or refer them back to the Magistrates’ Court for sentencing.

Hearings
Case Conference

Prior to each participant’s Review Hearing, a case conference will be conducted to inform the Drug Court Magistrate about the progress of the participant according to each member of the Drug Court team. At the case conference the Drug Court Magistrate will hear from the Drug Court Registrar, Police Prosecutor, Legal Aid officer, Drug Court Clinical Adviser and Drug Court Case Manager. The Drug Court team may discuss the following matters at the case conference regarding a participant’s involvement in the program:

  • Ongoing performance of the participant in relation to drug use, treatment and compliance on the program.
  • Possible variations of the Drug Treatment Order. 
  • Appropriate rewards and/or sanctions. 
  • Further offending or dealings with the police.

Regardless of what has been discussed and put forward at the case conference by the Drug Court team, no decision will be made officially until the participant is given the opportunity to be heard at their Review Hearing.

Other Parties

The Drug Court Magistrate may invite any person to the case conference who is thought necessary to inform the Drug Court team about the progress of the participant. This may include treatment providers who are dealing with the participant or family members of the participant. Under no circumstances is the participant to be present at the case conference.

Review Hearing

A Review Hearing allows for the ongoing judicial supervision of Drug Court participants throughout the life of the Order. Review hearings may be weekly, fortnightly or monthly depending on which program phase the participant is involved in. Those who attend the Review Hearing will include the Drug Court team and any family members and/or friends the participant may bring with them for support.

At the hearing, the Drug Court Magistrate will speak directly with the participant to find out they are going and discuss any issues that may have been raised by the Drug Court team in the case conference. The participant will then be provided with an opportunity to respond and give their opinion or version of events in relation to the issues raised. After hearing from the participant, the Drug Court Magistrate will decide whether the participant’s Order needs to be varied or whether a reward or sanction should be imposed.

The participant will need to sign a new Drug Treatment Order before they leave the court.

Rewards and Sanctions

The Victorian Drug Court uses principles of therapeutic jurisprudence to achieve therapeutic outcomes for participants, whilst employing traditional adversarial legal measures as a vehicle for ensuring compliance. Sanctions and rewards are behaviour modification tools used by the Drug Court to encourage positive behaviour from Drug Court participants and support them to engage in treatment.

The Drug Court Magistrate will use rewards or incentives to acknowledge a participant’s positive progress in addressing his or her drug addiction and to encourage continuing compliance with the program. 

To complement the encouragement of compliant behaviour, non-compliant behaviour will be addressed by the use of escalating sanctions as a tool to motivate participants to comply with the conditions of the Drug Treatment Order and thereby achieve the therapeutic goals of the Drug Court program.

Possible rewards and sanctions that may be accessed by the Drug Court magistrate include:

Rewards Sanctions
Verbal praise/encouragementVerbal warning
Advancement to the next Program phaseDemotion to an earlier phase
Decreased supervision Increased supervision
Decreased court appearancesIncreased court appearances
Reduced drug testingIncreased drug testing
Gift/voucher givenImposition of a curfew
Reduced unpaid community workUnpaid community work
Reduced periods of incarcerationPeriods of incarceration
Successful Program completionTermination of participation in the Program

The Drug Court Magistrate also has the power to activate the custodial component of the Drug Treatment Order during its operation, in order to impose a term of imprisonment in response to non-compliance. The purpose of imposing a short term of imprisonment is to maximise an offender’s compliance with the Drug Treatment Order and ultimately to retain offenders on the program. The minimum period of imprisonment that a magistrate can impose in response to non-compliance is seven days.

Cancellations & Breach Hearings
Cancellation as a Reward

The Drug Court may cancel a Drug Treatment Order as a reward to the participant if it considers that:

  • The participant has to date fully or substantially complied with the conditions attached to the order; and, 
  • The continuation of the order is no longer necessary to meet the purposes for which it was made.

If the Drug Court cancels the Drug Treatment Order, any orders which activate the custodial part of the order will cease to have effect.

Application to Cancel a DTO

The Drug Court Magistrate may cancel the treatment and supervision part of a participant’s Drug Treatment Order if satisfied on the balance of probabilities that:

  • Before the order was made, the offender's circumstances were not accurately presented to either the Drug Court or the authors of the Drug Treatment Order assessment reports; 
  • The offender will not be able to comply with a certain condition attached to the order because the circumstances of the offender have materially changed since the order was made; 
  • The offender is no longer willing to comply with one or more conditions attached to the order; or, 
  • The continuation of the treatment and supervision part of the order is not likely to achieve one or more of the purposes for which the order was made.

The Drug Court may initiate cancellation of a DTO or an application may be submitted by any of the following people:

  • The offender; 
  • The informant or police prosecutor; or, 
  • A prescribed person including a Community Corrections Officer.

If the Drug Court Magistrate cancels the treatment and supervision part of the order they will then take one of the following actions:

  • Make an order activating some or all of the custodial part of the Drug Treatment Order; or, 
  • Cancel the custodial part of the order and re-sentence the offender. 
Applicationation to Vary

Once an Order is imposed, an application may be made to vary the treatment and supervision components of the DTO.

The variation may be initiated by the Drug Court upon application by one of the following people:

  • The offender; 
  • The informant or police prosecutor; or, 
  • A prescribed person who may include a Community Corrections Officer.

The Drug Court Magistrate will approve the variation to an Order if it is considered appropriate to do so, based on its assessment of the offender’s progress in the Program.

A Drug Treatment Order may be varied in one or more of the following ways:

  • Addition or removal of one or more program conditions; or 
  • Varying one or more of the core conditions including the frequency of treatment, the degree of supervision, the frequency of drug and alcohol testing and the type or frequency of vocational, educational, employment or other programs that the offender must attend.

The offender must sign a new Drug Treatment Order each time the order is varied to consent to the variations.

Breach Hearing

The purpose of a Breach Hearing is to terminate a participant’s position in the Drug Court program. A Breach Hearing will be held when it is believed that the participant should be terminated from the Program based on any non-compliance issues raised at the Review Hearings. This could relate to any type of non-compliance including inappropriate behaviour whilst attending a program, continuing drug use or further offending.

The hearing will be listed four weeks in advance to allow for reports to be prepared outlining the issues relating to the participant’s non-compliance. During this time, the participant will continue to attend the weekly reviews until the Breach Hearing occurs. The police prosecutor and legal representative will resume traditional roles at the Breach Hearing. If the hearing is contested the participant may be called and cross examined.

The Drug Court Magistrate will preside over all Breach Hearings and may decide on one of two outcomes for the participant:

  • If the Drug Court Magistrate decides to continue the participant on the Order, they will resume their treatment, drug testing and court appearances
  • If the Drug Court Magistrate decides to terminate the participant from the program the Drug Court Magistrate will cancel the Drug Treatment Order and re-sentence the participant.
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