This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the implementation, operation and outcomes of the North Queensland Drug Court pilot program for 26 months from its inception in 2002. The program operates within the Cairns and Townsville magistrates' courts, and aims to target and divert into treatment, rather than prison, high-volume property or drug offenders whose offending is attributable to their drug dependency. The evaluation discusses referrals to the program; procedural issues; the operation of the program, including absconding rates; implementation issues; differences in program operation and participant profile between the two courts involved, and between the North Queensland and South East Queensland Drug Court pilot programs; and the outcomes of the pilot program, in terms of reoffending, drug use and health and social functioning of participants.
With respect to reoffending, the evaluation finds, among other things, that post-entry reoffending is significantly reduced for those who successfully complete the drug court program; and of those successful participants who do re-offend, the time taken to re-offend is significantly longer. Differences in reoffending between the North and South East Queensland Drug Court pilot programs are also examined. While small sample sizes make it difficult to conclude whether the drug court program is achieving its primary objectives, the results so far indicate that the North Queensland Drug Court program has achieved comparable results to those indicated in the South East Queensland evaluation. In terms of drug use and health outcomes, the evaluation finds evidence that both graduates and terminates reduced the level of their drug use for the duration of their participation, as indicated by the declining number of positive drug tests; graduates of the drug court program reported significant improvements across a range of physical and mental health measures; and at the time of graduation, participant health status was equivalent to Queensland population norms.
The evaluation was also supplemented with qualitative interviews with a variety of participants of the North Queensland Drug Court program. These interviews highlighted the importance of additional psychological assessment and relationship counselling services for participants on the program.