Almost nine out of 10 offenders dealt with by Northern Ireland’s first substance misuse court have stuck with the treatment programme offered.
In the months since its establishment in April, the specialised court in Belfast has recorded a sustained engagement rate of 87.5%, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) said.
The court brings together offenders whose drug and alcohol problems have been identified as contributory factors in the crimes they committed.
The judge, who sits among the offenders in a more informal setting than a traditional courtroom, can refer offenders willing to participate to intensive treatment and behavioural change programmes ahead of passing sentence.
The individuals referred must agree to take drug tests and the judge regularly reviews their engagement in the scheme. The Department of Justice programme is delivered by the PBNI in partnership with Addiction NI.
Dr Geraldine O’Hare of the PBNI highlighted that 76% of people under probation supervision in Northern Ireland have an alcohol or drug-related problem.
“That means that drug or alcohol abuse directly contributed to their offending behaviour,” she said.
“There is a well-established link between drugs, alcohol and crime. In fact, one of the biggest factors that influences whether someone will reoffend is their use of drugs and alcohol.
“In order to tackle this problem, probation has a range of interventions and programmes which directly address substance misuse. This includes a new substance misuse court, which challenges offenders to tackle their drug and alcohol misuse, which has been launched at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
“The new substance misuse court pilot allows 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.”