Why we need a Drug Court for Dubbo

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Stephen Lawrence, Country Labor Candidate for Dubbo

Dubbo’s history of drug abuse means that it’s time for our area to take a different approach to this entrenched issue. It’s time for a Drug Court in Dubbo.

The Dubbo area has long suffered with high rates of illegal drug use with a disproportionate effect on low-socioeconomic communities and particularly the region’s indigenous community. The whole community suffers from resulting crime and health effects.

That’s why, with the rest of Dubbo Regional Council, I have been on the forefront of advocating for a drug court for Dubbo. A Drug Court is a specialty court that focuses on reducing risk factors, rather than just a punitive approach, for long-term drug users in trouble with the law. Drug courts currently exist in Parramatta, Toronto, and in the Downing Centre in the CBD. NSW Labor has proposed a centre in Wollongong as well.

Drug courts aim to help drug dependent offenders to overcome both their drug dependence and their criminal offending. We have seen evidence of the positive results these courts have achieved. They work in conjunction with the probation and parole service, the Department of Health, Aboriginal Legal Service and Legal Aid.

We do need an appropriate stern focus in our courts but if we are to make real headway in reducing our unacceptably high crime rates, which in some respects are triple state averages, we need a sustained effort to attack the causes of crime.

From my personal perspective, having sat down in those court cells as principal solicitor for the Aboriginal Legal Service in Western New South Wales, interviewing hundreds of people over the years, trying to get a quick way of getting on top of their lives so I can present it to court - I can tell you it’s my personal opinion that we are not doing enough and it’s my personal view that we should do as much good as we possibly can.

I have run into clients down the track after sentence and seem them living meaningful lives contributing to society and not offending. Whatever one’s personal views about sentencing, that is the end result we all want.

Stephen Lawrence is a barrister, Dubbo Regional Councillor and the Country Labor Candidate for Dubbo in 2019.

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