Pictured: Solicitor Renata Matyear with UOW psychology lecturer Dr Mitchell Byrne (left) and Illawarra Law Society president David Potts. Credit: ORLANDO CHIODO
A new approach to dealing with drug-addicted criminals in the Illawarra is a step closer to reality.
On November 30, a public forum will be held at the University of Wollongong to inform the community about drug courts designed to offer an alternative to prison for addicts.
The concept has already proven successful in Parramatta and Newcastle, and a collection of lawyers, community workers, health professionals and academics want the next to be established in the Illawarra.
Wollongong-based solicitor Renata Matyear is one of those leading the drive.
‘‘They’re still sentencing the offender within the criminal process, but they’re dealing with the underlying cause of the crime,’’ Ms Matyear said.
‘‘There’s a judicial judge that sits on the court, but it’s recognising that sometimes therapeutic intervention within that criminal justice program can benefit the community at large.’’
Rather than sending someone who had repeatedly committed property offences while dealing with a drug addiction to prison, a drug court would allow the offender to be sentenced to a term of rehabilitation.
In the 12 months to May this year, drug offences increased 22.4 per cent in the Wollongong local government area, bringing the rate per 100,000 of population to 599.1.
While down against the NSW average, Ms Matyear said it was still cause for concern.
‘‘We certainly have a drug problem within the Illawarra region,’’ she said.
University of Wollongong clinical and forensic psychology senior lecturer Dr Mitchell Byrne said the establishment of a drug court would allow further research into how drug addiction was treated.
He said he expected any initial opposition from the community would be overcome.
‘‘The reason we’re having this forum is so the community can understand it’s not about going soft on crime,’’ he said.
‘‘This is about protecting the community and about using techniques shown to be most effective in stopping people from reoffending.’’
Dr Byrne said it was hoped renovations at the Wollongong Courthouse, due to begin in December next year, would allow for a drug court to be integrated into the building.
The forum will feature key national and international drug addiction experts.