Empirical research from social science disciplines such as psychology, psychiatry, criminology, social work, medicine and correctional services confirms a relationship between illicit drug use and mental health problems. As such, there is a growing awareness of the link between illicit drug use and mental health: the high rate of occurrence of co-morbidity whereby a person suffers from both conditions at the same time, and the need for intervention and treatment which addresses both conditions, preferably as early as possible. In addition, illicit drug use and mental health problems are identified as criminogenic factors associated with criminal behaviour and research indicates there is a high rate of co-morbidity amongst criminal offenders.
Treatment court programs, such as that offered through the Treatment Intervention Program (TIP), recognise the complex interplay between mental health issues, drug dependence and criminal offending, and are able to provide intervention and treatment which address both problems simultaneously. This approach aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the participant and reduce recidivism rates by stabilising the defendant’s mental condition and by addressing his or her drug dependence.
The Treatment Intervention Program (TIP) commenced in the Christies Beach Magistrates Court in June 2010 and in May 2011 in the Elizabeth Magistrates Court. The program replaces the Magistrates Court Diversion Program in these courts. The court sits once a fortnight (on alternative Fridays) in the Christies Beach Magistrates’ Court and accepts applicants with summary and minor indictable offences which are related to illicit drug dependence, or mental health problems, or both. The court is non-adversarial and each participant directly interacts with the judicial officer when he or she appears in court.
The TIP offers three separate intervention and treatment streams, namely: co morbidity (for those defendants with substance use issues and mental health problems), a six month drug court program for those defendants with substance use issues only, and a mental health/impairment program for those defendants with mental health problems only. All programs are of six months duration, however there is scope for participation to be extended in order to maximise treatment outcomes. Each defendant is subject to an individual treatment plan to address his or her particular treatment needs.
The program offers assistance and treatment through group therapy, intensive supervision, case management and, where necessary, urine testing. The participants are encouraged to engage with the Magistrate when they appear in court.
There is also a Youth Treatment Intervention program through the Youth Court and there is the Port Adelaide Nunga Court Treatment Program. See further: http://www.courts.sa.gov.au/OurCourts/MagistratesCourt/InterventionPrograms/Pages/Treatment-Intervention-Court.aspx
Criminal matters can be diverted to the TIP court list from the general list for an application for assessment for participation in the intervention program. Guilty pleas must be entered to the majority of criminal matters before the court. Disputed matters must remain in the court of origin until they resolve (by plea or a finding of guilt) and may later join all other matters listed in TIP court. Of note, there is flexibility to accept defendants who do not have matters which originate in the Christies Beach or Elizabeth Magistrates Court. Acceptance into the TIP at either court may be based upon a consideration of where the defendant lives and his or her ability to access treatment.
The TIP is available to defendants who have entered guilty pleas to the majority of offences or, in the case of those defendants with mental impairment, an admission that the factual elements of the charge are not contested and who are assessed as requiring an intervention by way of addressing illicit drug use, mental health problems, or both. It is important to note that this program does not replace the intensive Drug Court program offered through the Adelaide Magistrates Court, and defendants may be referred to the Drug Court based on the TIP assessment recommendations. The bail conditions for participants vary between simple bail and home detention depending on the requirements of the court for the particular defendant.
Assessments are currently undertaken from the Christies Beach Magistrates Court by the Program Supervisor, and can occur in custody. The assessment includes a recommendation as to whether the applicant is suitable for an intervention, an assessment of illicit drug use and/or mental impairment (which may also require a detailed psychological report) and which intervention stream would best address the intervention needs of the applicant. In addition, an individual case plan is designed to address individual needs.
If a defendant is not recommended for the program, the matter is usually returned to the court of origin for sentencing. The Magistrate sitting in the TIP court has discretion to hear submissions by the defendant and prosecution in relation to the assessment report, and may accept a defendant into the program regardless of the recommendation.
Most participants initially appear in the court on a fortnightly basis and are subjected to regular urine testing to establish whether or not they are using illicit substances. Persons accepted into the mental health/impairment stream with no history of illicit drug use may be required to appear at court less frequently, usually bi-monthly. The TIP is designed to move defendants across one treatment stream to the other in order to address issues as they arise.
Progress reports are provided to the Magistrate for each court appearance and outline progress, success and any difficulties or set-backs faced by the defendant for each review period. At each progress review, the Magistrate will discuss breaches of bail conditions, drug use and any other issues directly with the defendant. Failure to make positive progress on the program, ongoing breaches of conditions, and re-offending may lead to the termination of the defendant’s participation in the program. The court also has discretion to extend the defendant’s participation in the program beyond the usual six months where the defendant may benefit from a longer period of participation.
At the end of the defendant’s participation in the program, the court is provided with a report summarising the defendant’s progress and achievements during the course of the program. The report will also provide a summary as to whether or not progress has been satisfactory. This report is taken into consideration when the defendant is subsequently sentenced by the court.