The MERIT program

MERIT's Primary Goal and Target Population

The primary goal of the MERIT program is to break the substance abuse-crime cycle by involving defendants in treatment and rehabilitation.

MERIT is available to eligible defendants who appear at participating Local Courts. The program targets defendants with a demonstrable drug or alcohol problem who are eligible and suitable for release on bail and who are motivated to engage in treatment and rehabilitation.

Eligibility and Suitability Criteria

To be considered eligible for MERIT and/or Alcohol MERIT, where available, a defendant must:

  • be an adult
  • be eligible for bail or not require bail consideration
  • voluntarily agree to participate in MERIT
  • be suspected of using drugs or be known to have a history of drug use or alcohol misuse.

The defendant must not:

  • be charged with sexual or strictly indictable offences or have like offences pending before the court.

To be suitable for MERIT a defendant must:

  • have a treatable drug/alcohol problem for which there is appropriate treatment available
  • usually reside within the defined catchment area (or have sufficient connection to the area, for example, have full-time employment in the area)
  • voluntarily consent to undertake the MERIT program.

The MERIT program allows defendants to focus on treating their drug or alcohol problem in isolation from legal matters. Therefore, the program is designed so that agreement to become involved is not an admission of guilt for the offence(s) charged.  Treatment is generally prior to any pleas being made with the adjournment of court matters until the completion of the program.

What type of treatment is available?

Treatments offered will vary according to what is appropriate for the particular participant, and may include:

  • detoxification
  • methadone and other pharmacotherapies
  • residential rehabilitation
  • individual and group counselling
  • case management and numerous forms of welfare support and assistance.

What happens during the bail period?

  • Participants will participate in the treatment program as agreed to by themselves and the Caseworker.
  • Participants will abide by all conditions of bail and the MERIT treatment plan.
  • Participants will have the support and guidance of their MERIT Caseworker.
  • Participants will be required to appear before the Magistrate during this period, as the Magistrate hearing the case will require an update on treatment progress.

What happens if a participant is non-compliant with the program conditions?

In instances of non-compliance, MERIT caseworkers will report this to the Magistrate.  The consequences are that the Magistrate may remove the defendant from the program.  If removed from MERIT, the defendant's matters proceed to plea or hearing.

It should be noted that failure to respond to a drug treatment program will not be dealt with by punitive measures. If convicted of the offence(s) as charged, any penalty will relate to that offence only, and not to any failure to respond to treatment.

Sentencing/Hearing

The completion of the treatment program is likely to coincide with the hearing or sentencing of the outstanding court matter(s).

  • The Magistrate hearing the case will be provided with a report from the MERIT Team.
  • The report will give information on the client's participation in treatment and any further treatment recommendations.
  • Where possible, a detailed aftercare program will be formulated to assist participants to further their rehabilitation.

Types of sentences used after successful completion of MERIT vary but should reflect successful completion of MERIT and also take into account any recommendations for further treatment.