Responding to substance abuse and offending in Indigenous communities : review of diversion programs


The overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system has long been a concern. Research has shown levels of substance use to be high among Indigenous offenders. The link between substance use and offending is a key area of interest to policymakers, researchers and practitioners, and has provided the impetus for a proliferation of diversionary programs and initiatives aimed at reducing offending by addressing alcohol and drug use. The intention of diversion programs is to divert the offender away from, or minimise their probability of, proceeding further into the criminal justice system. In 2006, the Australian Institute of Criminology was contracted by the Attorney-General's Department to examine the response of governments to Indigenous substance use and related offending. Primarily, this revolved around examining the type and extent of diversion programs currently operating, as well as issues around accessibility and barriers to participation and completion. This report outlines the diversion programs currently operating, including those for Indigenous offenders. Issues concerning access to diversion programs, and barriers to participation and completion, determine the effectiveness of programs. The findings suggest there is a strong need to consider the drug use problems specific to Indigenous offenders and to consider expanding programs to include substances such as alcohol and inhalants, which generally fall outside the scope of many drug diversion initiatives. Of interest to policymakers are issues raised relating to wider and clearer dissemination of information to improve access, improving opportunities to access treatment, the need for appropriate treatment services and review of eligibility criteria for drug diversion programs.