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Dubbo is the site for a much-anticipated new Drug Court, with the Orana Law Society declaring it “the news our region has been waiting for”.

The Drug Court will be made possible by a $27.9 million investment over four years from the NSW Government. The expansion means Dubbo will join Drug Court sites in Sydney, Parramatta and the Hunter.

For more than 20 years, the Drug Court has been diverting those facing prison time for a non-violent offence into an intensive program of supervision, testing and treatment of the underlying factors of drug dependency. Opening a Drug Court in priority regional areas was a key recommendation of the Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice, noting the regions had been hit especially hard by the drug epidemic.

“It’s not enough to be ‘tough on crime’; instead we need to be tough and smart,” NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said during his announcement on June 17.

“We need responses based on evidence, not on outmoded prejudices or easy headlines. We need responses that actually make a difference for the individuals, families, friends and communities battling illicit drug abuse.”

A 2020 evaluation from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found “treating drug-related offenders is far more effective than sending them to prison”.

Research has consistently shown that the Drug Court is more effective than prison in reducing drug-related crime.

– Juliana Warner, President of the Law Society of NSW

In a longitudinal study, tracking users who had gone through the drug court program alongside others who were deemed eligible but did not complete it, the study found those who participated had a 17 per cent lower reoffending rate compared with non-participants.

“It’s more cost effective than sending offenders to prison and is proven to be more efficient at driving down crime. It’s no surprise, then, that the NSW Police support it too,” Speakman said.

“Graduation day in the Drug Court is testament to the fact that it’s possible to get better.”

Law Society of NSW President Juliana Warner welcomed the announcement.

“The Law Society of NSW, which represents the state’s 36,000 solicitors, and the Orana Law Society, which represents solicitors in Dubbo and the surrounding regions, have long held the view that there is a pressing need for a Drug Court in Dubbo,” President Warner said in a statement.

“Research has consistently shown that the Drug Court is more effective than prison in reducing drug-related crime. It can also play a part in reducing family and domestic violence, family breakdown, homelessness and other social issues.

“This announcement is a much-welcomed acknowledgement by the NSW Government that the use of ice and other amphetamine type substances needs to be addressed as a major health issue, not just a criminal justice issue.

“The Law Society has publicly encouraged the expansion of the Drug Court and other diversionary programs for some time and welcomes the prospect of additional Government support for this therapeutic approach.”

Andrew Boog, President of the Orana Law Society, reiterated Ms Warner’s comments, saying “this is the news that our region has been waiting for, for many years”.

Judge Roger Dive, who has been the Senior Judge of the Drug Court since it commenced 17 years ago, said “our society gains when we do something really sensible and give drug users an opportunity to recover. It’s good for the community, good for the budget and very good for the families of those in recovery.”