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Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment Program: Impact of Program Participation on Re-Offending by Defendants with a Drug Use Problem

NCJ Number
Rohan Lulham
Date Published
February 2009
20 pages
This study examined the independent effect of a drug-treatment program on re-offending rates for defendants in New South Wales (NSW) courts.
The Magistrates Early Referral Treatment (MERIT) program is a drug-treatment program aimed at drug-using offenders appearing in New South Wales (NSW) local courts. The MERIT program is a 'pre-plea' drug diversion program where both referral and treatment, typically lasting for 3 months, occur prior to the defendant making a plea of guilty or not guilty for the relevant offense. Offenders can be referred to the program one of three ways: by the magistrate, by their lawyer, or through self-referral. This study evaluated the re-offending outcomes for defendants referred to this program. A group of 2,396 defendants who participated in the MERIT program was compared to a comparison group of defendants who did not participate in the MERIT program yet met the broad eligibility criteria. The analysis found that for those defendants who completed the MERIT program, their likelihood of re-offending or committing any theft re-offense was significantly reduced within a 2-year follow-up period. For those completing the program, the likelihood of committing any new offense was reduced by 12 percent and the likelihood of committing any new theft offense was reduced by 4 percent. These results provide strong support for encouraging participation in the MERIT program. Study limitations are discussed. Tables, figure, notes, references, and technical appendixes