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Drug Court in Victoria
The Drug Court in Victoria is based at the Magistrates’ Court at Dandenong. It is responsible for the sentencing, supervision and treatment of offenders who are drug and/or alcohol dependent and who are subject to a court Drug Treatment Order (DTO) under the Sentencing Act 1991. If an offender is eligible for a DTO, their case is adjourned for about 3 weeks whilst assessment reports (a case management report and a clinical report) are prepared. These are used to prepare the treatment plan that will be part of the individual DTO. If the offender isn’t eligible, they may be sentenced at either the Drug Court or at the Magistrates’ Court.
A DTO is made for 2 years and it may be varied at any of the regular Review Hearings if the offender isn’t responding to the treatment or there is alternative treatment that would better suit the offender. An application to vary the treatment and supervision part of the order can also be made by the offender, the police or another prescribed person at any time during the order.
To be an eligible an offender must:
- Plead guilty.
- Live in the area serviced by the Drug Court in Victoria.
- Be dependent on drugs and/or alcohol and this must have led to the offence.
- Agree to comply with the DTO.
- Not be subject to a Parole Order, a Combined Custody and Treatment Order or a Sentencing Order of the County or Supreme Court.
- The offence/s must not be sex offences nor offences involving actual bodily harm.
- They must have a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and it must be likely that the offender would get a prison sentence.
A DTO has 2 parts, the treatment/supervision and the custodial part. The treatment and supervision part lasts for 2 years or until cancelled. The prison sentence part must be no more than 2 years. It is on hold while the offender is complying with the order and can be activated at any time if the offender stops complying. If it is activated, then the offender serves the rest of their sentence in prison. While on a DTO they must:
- Not commit another offence punishable by a prison sentence.
- Attend the Drug Court when required.
- Attend Community Corrections or any other place if directed.
- Report to and have visits from the Drug Court team or from a Community Corrections Officer.
- Undergo drug or alcohol dependency treatment as directed.
- Advise the Drug Court of any change of address at least 2 working days before the change.
- Not leave the state unless permitted by the Drug Court or Community Corrections.
- Obey all instructions from the Drug Court and the Community Corrections.
- Obey all conditions in the DTO throughout the entire time the order is in force. These conditions can include;
- Submitting to drug or alcohol testing.
- Attending educational, vocational, employment or other programs.
- Submitting to medical, psychiatric or psychological assessment.
- Not associating with certain persons.
- Living at a specific place.
- Any other orders the court thinks necessary.
Review Hearings are weekly, fortnightly or monthly depending on the phase of the program and before each a case conference is held. The Drug Court Registrar, Police Prosecutor, Legal Aid, Clinical Adviser, Case Manager and any other person the Magistrate invites will be at the conference. The offender’s progress, and any need to vary or cancel the order or give rewards or impose sanctions is discussed.
At the hearing, the Magistrate will speak to the offender about any issues raised in the conference. The offender is given the opportunity to respond to these. The Magistrate then makes their decision. If they think the DTO should be terminated then a Breach Hearing is scheduled. Reports are prepared relating to the offenders non-compliance. During the adjournment the offender attends weekly reviews. If after the hearing the Magistrate decides to cancel the order, the offender is either sentenced to prison in accordance with the original custodial order, or the custodial part of the order is cancelled and the offender is re-sentenced.Rewards and sanctions the Drug Court use include:
- Verbal praise or warnings.
- Advancement or demotion between program phases.
- Increasing or decreasing supervision.
- Increasing or decreasing court appearances.
- Increasing or decreasing drug testing.
- Increasing or decreasing unpaid community work.
- Prison time for non-compliance. The minimum is 7 days.
- Gift vouchers.
- Imposing a curfew.
- Terminating the program because:
» The offender’s circumstances were not accurately given during the assessment.
» The offender can’t comply with a condition of the DTO.
» The offender has had a major change of circumstances since the DTO was made.
» The offender is not willing to fully comply with the DTO.
» Continuing the DTO isn’t likely to achieve its purpose.
» The offender has fully or mostly completed the DTO and is rewarded be ending it.