People rarely present at court with a single issue. They may be charged with only one offence, but underlying health and personal issues often lurk in the background. Unless these issues are recognised and addressed, it is unlikely they will change their offending behaviour.
Therapeutic approaches to justice recognise that people’s offending is complex. And they recognise that a strictly punitive approach to the administration of justice is not only ineffective, but expensive and undermines community safety.
Therapeutic jurisprudence provides a holistic health and legal case management service that helps offenders address their behaviour. Across jurisdictions, legal and health practitioners are turning to therapeutic approaches to justice in order to tackle stubborn recidivism rates and to improve community safety.
Our Therapeutic Justice program at Shepparton Courts is one such program. We deliver the program in partnership with Primary Care Connect. It employs a Case Manager (David) and a Lawyer (Sej). The latter is embedded at Primary Care Connect and at the Court. This not only breaks down traditional workplace barriers but promotes a cross-pollination of referrals and secondary consultations. It also increases client trust in our program’s Lawyer.
Our Therapeutic Justice program is now in its second year, and this year assisted 107 people, all of whom had substance abuse and mental health issues. Our initial evaluation of the program demonstrates clear benefits for clients.
Over this time, our Lawyer has provided 435 secondary consultations to Primary Care Connect staff. Not only have these consultations helped resolve issues for Primary Care Connect clients, they have increased Primary Care Connect staff’s capacity to identify legal issues and support clients.
In eight instances, the program connected not only the offender but the whole family. Eleven per cent of our clients were referred by a friend or a family member who had previously participated with or engaged with the program.
All of our clients who received a prison term had their term reduced and many continued to engage with the program after their release.
In addition, the program’s Lawyer, alongside other Goulburn Valley CLC Lawyers, delivered eight community legal education seminars to Primary Care Connect staff and staff from Goulburn Valley Health, FamilyCare, Kildonan Uniting Care and Brayton Youth.