MORE offenders who come before the courts are being given a second chance to break free from drugs and alcohol following changes to the criteria for the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program.
Until recently MERIT case workers could only take clients whose drug and alcohol offences did not involve any form of violence.
Team leader Tania Martin said although the expansion of the client base had increased the workload of staff, it was an opportunity to put people on the right path whose violence was a result of their drug or alcohol addiction.
The service, which operates under the auspices of NSW Health provides 12 weeks of intensive one-to-one counselling.
“Since our funding has become permanent it has put us in a position to be able to broaden our scope and plan ahead,” Mrs Martin said.
“We are dealing with clients who have serious drug and alcohol-related issues, which now includes people who have been charged with grievous bodily harm or assault occasioning actual bodily harm.”
Once an offender is taken into the program, the magistrate waits for a final report from MERIT before sentencing the offender, taking into account their response to the program and prospects for rehabilitation.
“Our service is very fortunate because Mr [Terry] Lucas the magistrate in Orange and Mr [Michael] Allen the magistrate in Bathurst work closely with us and are very supportive,” Mrs Martin said.
One client said he was forever grateful for the help he had received after being counselled for 12 weeks at MERIT.
“I have called in, not because I am under any pressure to do so, but because they are here to help me,” he said.
“They have made such a difference to my life here.”