Therapeutic programs improve outcomes for defendants

Illustration of man confined to bottle

Two therapeutic programs available through the Magistrates Court could help struggling clients, Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ) has explained.

LAQ principal lawyers Penny Williams and Laura Rouse described the benefits of the Queensland Drugs and Alcohol Court (QDAC) and Court Link during a free webinar earlier this month.

The two outlined how these holistic support and treatment programs could help vulnerable offenders charged with criminal offences improve their lives and reduce their risk of reoffending

Penny spoke of QDAC’s intensive and targeted treatment and support for adult offenders, where severe drug and/or alcohol use was a core component of their crime.

“The Drug Court is trying to look at a person and say ‘how can we help not just with your drug and alcohol issues but obviously the other things that underlie and also affect your daily living?’,” she said.

Penny said the two-year program involved regular court appearances; random drug and alcohol testing; social supports such as housing; legal representation and close engagement with a magistrate; and a rewards and sanctions framework.


She said it could involve counselling for grief and loss and other issues; engagement with the NDIS; help to find mental health stability; treatment for general health issues; and help with family relationships, education and employment.

It could also help improve relationships with children, Penny said.

“Engagement in QDAC can help participants in the program to improve communications and relations with the Department of Child Safety, so we have a large number of participants who have children that have a Department of Child Safety order and certainly we’ve seen several people who have not graduated but have managed to show some stabilisation through the order that they’ve had increased access and contact with their children,” she said.

Penny said LAQ’s involvement in QDAC was unique, with lawyers involved with participants from pre-sentencing through treatment.

She said the agency’s role was to ensure procedural fairness, help participants adapt to routines, help participants discuss matters with magistrates, provide general legal information for participants for issues external to QDAC, and provide information to other parties, including family members, other lawyers and support agencies.

Laura explained that Court Link was also a therapeutic program for adults, but for those on bail or applying for bail.


She said the voluntary program involved case management for 12 weeks for people identified as having a moderate to high risk of reoffending, due to issues such as drug or alcohol use; physical or mental health issues, impaired decision-making capacity; and homelessness or risk of homelessness.

Referrals to treatment and support services were made during that period, she said.

“We’ve got engagement with treatment and support providers that can continue beyond the 12-week program, so many people have connected with agencies that they can then stay with through other forms of funding that agencies have,” Laura said.

“There’s quality of life outcomes – people who finish the program are often expressing how much better they’re feeling in that moment in time about their lives, being able to move forward and steer clear of offending.”

Laura said participants could benefit from support in mental health treatment plans, housing, engagement with the NDIS, and in obtaining identification documents.

She said completion of the 12-week program could also be considered at sentence, and often led to a reduction in penalty.


“So it can mean that people who would have gone to prison at sentence are staying in the community on a particular order, or someone who was going to stay in the community anyway is now on probation, and instead of getting 12 months, might get nine months, because the court can see they’ve just done 12 weeks of a rehabilitation-style program,”  she said.

“It’s not the motivation of people to come on to Court Link but as lawyers, that’s something we’ll advocate for at the end, that there’s three months’ worth of rehabilitation which must be taken into account under the Penalties and Sentencing Act.”

For information on Legal Aid webinars, visit the website.

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