The Youth Drug and Alcohol Court - Get with the Program!

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1 The Youth Drug and Alcohol Court - Get with the Program! The Youth Drug and Alcohol Court (YDAC) was established in 2000 and this year will celebrate 10 years of operation. The YDAC programme is a collaborative project of the Children s Court, NSW Police, Legal Aid NSW and four government agencies, being Juvenile Justice, Justice Health, Department of Community Services and the Department of Education and Training. These last four agencies each have representatives that make up the Joint Assessment and Review Team (JART). YDAC is designed for those Young People with a drug and/or alcohol problem, who have committed criminal offences and are facing a custodial penalty. YDAC is a holistic program in that it recognises there are other issues that contribute to offending including mental illness, homelessness, and educational deficits. The YDAC has never been legislated. The framework and practice of YDAC is based on Practice Note No. 1 of the Children s Court, together with other legislation affecting NSW Children s Courts. 1 Part 1 Eligibility Who can be referred to YDAC? Any Young Person (YP) who meets the eligibility criteria set out the Practice Note 1 may be referred. The criteria are as follows; The YP has entered a plea of guilty to or been found guilty of all charges against him or her, and none of the offences are sex offences 1 Children s Court Practice Note No 1, 2009 issued by His Honour Judge Mark Marien SC on 28 August

2 NB Please note the practice direction sets out that a YP may plead not guilty to an offence where the overall penalty will not significantly change if the child was to be found guilty of those defended matters. The YP has a demonstrable drug and/or alcohol problem The YP was aged between at the time of the commission of the offence The offence can be dealt with to finality within the Children s Court The YP resides in, committed the offence in, or otherwise identifies with the greater Sydney Metropolitan area. The YP is ineligible for a caution or YJC under the Young Offenders Act It should be noted that YDAC differs from the adult Drug Court in that a YP is not excluded if he or she has committed a violent offence. Also, substance misuse may be limited to alcohol. Part 2 The Referral Process A Young person may self-refer or be referred at the discretion of the Magistrate. It would be helpful to contact the YDAC Registry to confirm the appropriate day for the initial assessment. YDAC sits at Parramatta Children s Court on Monday, Bidura Children s Court on Wednesday and Campbelltown Children s Court on Thursday. Part 3 The Assessment Process When a YP is referred to YDAC, they are initially discussed by the Court team to ensure there are no legal barriers from them doing the program. The YP is then seen by the Legal Aid solicitor who explains the program to them and advises them as to the penalties available if they graduate or choose to be referred back to the Children s Court for sentence. At that stage, if the YP wants to participate, she or he is seen by a Juvenile Justice Officer who does an initial screen in terms of the Drug and Alcohol problem. 2

3 The Juvenile Justice Officer then indicates to the Court their opinion on whether the YP is eligible. The Legal Aid solicitor will then confirm with the YP that they would like to participate. It they do, the matter will be mentioned in Court and adjourned for a Comprehensive assessment. The Comprehensive assessment traditionally takes two weeks if the YP is in custody or three weeks if they are in the community. A representative from all four departments that make up JART will assess the YP. This assessment will provide a very detailed background of the Young Person, their attitude to the offence, an analysis of their drug and alcohol issues, an accurate account of the YP s involvement with DOCS and the Young Person s educational background. JART will submit a report to the Court detailing if they can come up with an appropriate program plan and if they can t, reasons as to why. The report is submitted to all parties. If the Magistrate after reading the report and hearing from the Prosecution and the Defence, decide the YP is suitable to come onto YDAC, they are admitted to the program that day. The sentence matters are adjourned for 6 months by way of a Griffiths remand under s33(1)(c2) of the Children s (Criminal Proceedings) Act. Part 4 The Program When a young person is admitted to the programme his or her proceedings are adjourned for six months essentially to give the young person an opportunity to demonstrate a capacity for rehabilitation by completing the treatment plan. It is made clear to the young person that the proceedings may be adjourned for up to 12 months in total to allow for completion of the programme plan. Many young people do not complete their treatment plan within the six months and some utilise the entire 12 month period. 3

4 When the young person is admitted onto the programme he or she is granted strict conditional bail. In addition to not committing any fresh offences and attending court as required, the young person is also required to comply with all directions of JART including residence and participation in all appointments, urinalysis, counselling and other treatments. Conditions such as not associating with certain persons are commonly imposed and all young persons are prohibited from taking any drugs and alcohol and/or entering licensed premises even if they are aged over 18. Most participants complete a 2-3 month residential rehabilitation programme, though some participants who are adults complete more lengthy programmes. Generally this is undertaken at the beginning of the programme. Some participants undertake a day programme, whilst others, especially those attending school or who have a job address their substance abuse issues through counselling in the community. All young people are subject to random urinalysis, though nowhere near as regularly as the NSW Drug Court. 2 Services and programmes for YDAC participants are delivered either at the YDAC office in Liverpool or through community based agencies. Each young person participating in the YDAC is assigned to one of the seven juvenile justice officers or counsellors who are attached exclusively to the YDAC. Two of the Juvenile Justice staff are aboriginal. In addition to counselling, Juvenile Justice also offers specific programmes such as group or individual sessions aimed at ending offending. Assistance with education is provided through two TAFE teachers who are based at the YDAC office. Where possible and appropriate young people are also assisted by the Education and Training JART member to gain readmission to school (either at a mainstream or specialist school, TAFE or distance education). The JART Education member also provides assistance with training and job-searching. Each young person is also assigned a case manager from a non-government agency 3 who assists the young person with welfare related issues. This relationship with non- 2 Typically a young people will undergo random urinalysis 6 times in 6 months 3 There are two case management services related to the Salvation Army in different locations in Sydney who provide these services 4

5 government agencies is a very special component of the YDAC and often close relationships are formed between the young person and the case manager which endure long beyond participation in YDAC. This part of the programme is funded by DOCS, and the DOCS JART member also provides family assistance where possible to help the young person in his or her treatment plan. Many of the participants in YDAC are from dysfunctional families or families in which there are few or no boundaries in place, and some are under DOCS care. For these young people it is not possible to live at home at the beginning and succeed on the programme. For this reason, virtually all of the participants spend some time, generally when they are first released from custody in the Residential Induction Unit, which is a six-bed residential facility in Liverpool solely for participants in YDAC. The unit is also available if there is no other appropriate place for the young person to reside at any time whilst on the YDAC programme. The Unit is run by The Parramatta Mission and is funded by the Department of Health. In addition to providing supported accommodation for the residents some programmes are run for the residents such as social outings, community service (eg feeding the homeless through the Exodus Foundation), music lessons and activities to enhance living skills. Young people are also assisted in finding supported accommodation if it is not appropriate or desirable to return home. Health Services are provided to all young people on the YDAC programme through the provision of two nurses, a part-time addiction specialist and a part-time psychiatrist, all funded by the Department of Health. Dental care is also offered and specialist medical appointments may be funded in individual cases. Report-Backs One of the hallmarks of the YDAC is the supervisory and monitoring role played by the court by means of regular report-backs with the court team. The court team consists of the Magistrate, Police Prosecutor, Legal Aid lawyer and a member of the JART team. Each member of the court team plays a therapeutic role in the young person s rehabilitation. Prior to each report-back the team members are provided with reports from the each participant s juvenile justice officer and case manager 5

6 concerning compliance with the programme plan and a team meeting is held each court day to discuss the progress of the participants. At the report back the Magistrate and the other team members therapeutically interact with the young person, offering encouragement and praise for good progress and reminding the young person of the consequences if he or she does not satisfactorily complete, where that is required. For some young people the court team members are the first adults in their lives to offer them encouragement, and participation in the YDAC is the first time effective boundaries have been put in place, with consequences for non-compliance. The whole process is non-adversarial and informal, with all team members supporting the young person s rehabilitation and recovery. Family members of the participant are encouraged to attend, where this is helpful to the participant s progress. The court does not have the power to impose sanctions. However, as drug or alcohol use, offending or non-compliance with directions is a breach or bail, bail may be revoked in serious cases. When this occurs the court may order a treatment review, which is undertaken by JART and change in treatment plan including an extension of the programme may then be adopted. Completion of Treatment Plan and Graduation If the participant satisfactorily completes the treatment plan then he or she is sentenced to a non-custodial disposition. Following the sentence a graduation ceremony is held, usually attended by family and friends of the graduate. If a participant withdraws from the programme, or is discharged for persistent serious non-compliance, the YDAC Magistrate also sentences him or her, and although participation in the programme is taken into account, the young person often receives a custodial sentence. 6

7 Outcomes When assessing the outcomes or effectiveness of the YDAC programme, it is important to bear in mind that the court is dealing with some of the most difficult young people in the criminal justice system. The nature of the programme means that, but for the participation in it, participants would ordinarily receive a custodial sentence, and experience tells us that these are the young people most likely to reoffend and find their way inevitably into the adult goal system, very often soon after they reach adulthood. The YDAC has only been comprehensively formally assessed on one occasion 4. In 2003 a report was commissioned by the NSW Attorney-General s Department from a consortium of various facilities at the University of New South Wales led by the Social Policy Research Centre to evaluate the operation of the pilot over the two years ending July This evaluation examined all of the young people referred to the YDAC who both graduated from the programme or did not complete it. In the recommendations contained in the Executive Summary the authors express the view that the program is having an important positive impact on the lives of many of those participating. The unit costs of achieving these impacts on a group of young people with entrenched drug use and criminal histories do not appear greater than keeping them in custody. On this basis the key recommendation is that the YDC program should continue and possibly be expanded to selected other geographical areas Some of the other important key findings were that Graduates were less likely to re-offend than those who did not complete the program Most participants interviewed reported that their drug use had decreased compared to the three months before entering the programme Graduates were more motivated to reduce their drug use than those who terminated early from the program There was some improvement in mental health over the longer term particularly for young women and those who graduated from the program 4 There was also a review of the services component of the YDAC conducted in

8 There was a high and sustained level of satisfaction with the program overall, with the court and casework staff This evaluation was undertaken at a very early stage in the history of the program. Even then, on a number of indicators the program must be regarded as successful, especially having regard to the complex needs of the participants. Since that evaluation a number of important changes have been made and in recent years many more young people have been participating in the programme at any given time without an increase in resources. YDAC :- Myths Busted. 1. The Young Person has to leave their family. - There is no denying that a Young Person may have to participate in a full time rehabilitation facility. But not always. There are many people on the program at the moment who reside with their family, attend school and attend alcohol and drug counselling after school. - Also, it would be very unfair for us to send a YP back into a home where Drug use is practiced and sometimes encouraged and expect the YP to remain drug free. Another common plan, is that we firstly ask the YP to live at the Induction Unit and slowly transition back home with the support of the program. 2. The Young Person can t go to school. - The JART team consists of a representative from the Department of Education and Training. That person is able to use all of their contacts to assist YP to return to school. - The common scenario is that a YP has been suspended and/or expelled from their local schools a couple of years ago. Having a representative of the education department ring the school for them and advocate on their behalf can be extraordinarily helpful. It also allows the YP to have their literacy and numeracy tested and an appropriate school be found i.e. TAFE, mainstream 8

9 school, behavioural schools, schools for young people who are now too old for mainstream school etc - Currently, we have 5 YP attending school and either living at home and/or transitioning back there. 3. The YP must plead guilty to everything - It is noted above that so long as the result will not affect the ultimate outcome in terms of penalty, the Magistrate allows for pleas of not guilty to follow along. - If it is obvious from the Police Facts why the YP is pleading not guilty for example, police overcharging or police incorrectly charging, the matters can run alongside the matters before YDAC. 4. The YP must be facing a control order - The Practice Direction sets out that the Court has discretion to exclude a YP if there is no likelihood of a control order being imposed. - If the numbers allow, the court can use their discretion to admit YP onto the program and structure a program that recognises the unlikelihood of a custodial penalty. 5. YDAC is all about going to Rehab - YDAC is a holistic program and is made up with all different departments in order to provide support in all aspects of a Young Person s life. - Program plans often include dental care, vision testing and new glasses if needed, hearing testing, TAFE classes, ending offending program and the music program. - Living skills is organised every Friday and the idea is to help Young People enjoy different social activities. - YDAC support workers help Young People make sure they have a Medicare card, a drivers licence, help with completing the driving hours and even guitar lessons. 9

10 - The idea behind making YDAC a holistic program is that we don t just help with the drug and/or alcohol addiction but also the assistance for the Young Person to have the skills to survive and prosper in the community. 6. YDAC is not culturally appropriate for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples. - YDAC is designed so that each program plan is unique and is tailored to the individuals needs. - With the over-representation of indigenous Young People in the criminal justice system still a startling statistic, YDAC is on average made up of 50% Indigenous Young Peoples. - Each Young Person is designated a Juvenile Justice Officer and a Case Manager. We have two Aboriginal Juvenile Justice Officer s and two Aboriginal Case Manager s working with the program at present. If at all possible they are linked with an Indigenous Young Person. - The familial style of the YDAC program lends itself to working successfully with Aboriginal People. Not only does YDAC work as a team but also the Young Person s family is often assisted by the program and integrated into the therapeutic process. All in all, YDAC is a program that provides the most intensive and therapeutic support within Juvenile Justice in NSW. It is, by no means, the easy option. It does provide results and should be utilised to its full potential. Hilary Hannam Children s Court Magistrate Sarah Crellin Solicitor, Children s Legal Service, Legal Aid NSW April

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