Welcome change to drug rehabilitation program

Homeless Persons’ Legal Service (HPLS) welcomes a NSW Government decision to include treatment
for alcohol addiction in a drug rehabilitation program for defendants.

the decision, NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos said this week the
Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program would be offered for
alcohol treatment at nine courts by the end of the year.

shows that this program works to break the drug-crime cycle,’ Mr Hatzistergos

hope to replicate this success in treating defendants with serious alcohol

is a joint Commonwealth-State program that offers drug treatment prior to
sentencing. It is a voluntary option for non-violent defendants coming before
Local Courts. The option is available to defendants who have a drug problem,
who are considered suitable for release into the community on bail, and who are
motivated to engage in treatment and rehabilitation.

the past year, HPLS has lobbied for the extension of the MERIT program to
include treatment for alcohol addiction because of the potential benefit the
program would have for people experiencing homelessness. A report by the
Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) estimates up to 55 percent of
people sleeping rough are dependent on alcohol.

People experiencing
homelessness are also more likely to come in contact with the criminal justice
system than other members of the community. In 2008, HPLS appointed a Solicitor
Advocate to deal with the large number of requests from homeless people seeking
assistance in minor criminal matters.

HPLS Policy Officer
Chris Hartley said the high numbers of homeless people seeking assistance in
minor criminal matters is in part due to the public nature of homeless peoples’

‘Without appropriate
accommodation, many homeless people are forced to conduct their private
activities such as sleeping, toileting, eating and drinking in public.

‘The public nature of
this conduct is what brings many individuals experiencing homelessness into
contact with police and other law enforcement agencies,’ Mr Hartley said.

‘The MERIT program has
succeeded in helping defendants with a drug addiction. HPLS believes the
program will be equally successful in directing people with alcohol addiction
away from the criminal justice system.’

* The Homeless Persons’ Legal Service
(HPLS) is a joint initiative of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the
Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) NSW. PIAC receives funding from the
NSW Attorney General, the Hon John Hatzistergos MLC, through the NSW Public
Purpose Fund to operate the Service.

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