A new pilot programme, a ‘Substance Misuse Court’, which challenges offenders to tackle their drug and alcohol misuse, has been launched today at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
The new Substance Misuse Court pilot will allow the Judge to refer offenders, who have been convicted of an offence related to their alcohol or drugs misuse, to an intensive treatment-focused behavioural change programme before sentencing.
International evidence suggests that this type of intensive treatment is a more effective intervention to rehabilitate offenders in cases where substance misuse is the underlying problem.
The programme will be delivered by the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) in partnership with Addiction NI.
Participants will be required to undertake random drug and/or alcohol testing in addition to regular sampling and treatment sessions and must attend court at least once a month for review by the Judge in charge of the programme.
These review hearings allow the Judge to directly supervise the defendant’s progress over the duration of the programme, whilst maintaining a personal involvement with the case and holding the offender directly to account for their offence.
Up to 50 offenders will participate in the pilot which is expected to run for approximately nine months.
Acting Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, Peter Luney said: “This is an innovative pilot which will allow the court to actively support individuals in a new way. Aimed at people whose offending is underpinned by misusing alcohol or drugs, it will challenge them to face up to their problems and recognise the harm they have caused while supporting them to change. The launch of this pilot presents an opportunity to break the cycle of offending and, ultimately, another opportunity for the Department of Justice to play its role in creating a safe community for Northern Ireland, where we respect the law and each other.”
Thelma Abernethy, Chief Executive of Addiction NI commented: “Addiction NI are pleased to be part of this innovative programme in supporting people going through the courts to address their alcohol and/or drug use while at the same time taking personal responsibility for their actions. This programme will support individuals to address underlying issues, understand the impact of alcohol and drugs on their families and communities and enable them to avail of a range of supports to better manage their lives. For many, going to prison and doing the time and not addressing life issues can be easier but not as effective in bringing about real change.”
Dr Geraldine O'Hare, PBNI's Head of Psychology Services and Interventions said: "This innovative problem solving approach which will address the underlying root causes of substance misuse and offending behaviour, provides the Criminal Justice System and other agencies, the opportunity to work intensively with individuals who come before the court with such problems. The programme will challenge offenders to address their behaviour and the harm caused by alcohol and drug related crime in our society.
This new programme will aim to reduce reoffending in Northern Ireland and hold individuals to account whilst promoting opportunities to rehabilitate offenders in the community.”