Auditor General's Report Performance Audit: Helping Aboriginal Defendants through MERIT: NSW Attorney General?s Department, NSW Department of Health, NSW Police Force


This report evaluates the participation of Aboriginal people in the NSW Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment program (MERIT). Launched as a pilot program in 2000 in Lismore, NSW, MERIT has expanded across the State and in 2009 operated in 61 of 144 local courts. Defendants who are eligible for MERIT must have a problem with illicit drugs and agree to undertake a three month treatment program which is completed before sentencing. In 2007-08, 1,253 defendants completed MERIT; only 169 of these were Aboriginal defendants. Since defendants whose primary problem is alcohol are not eligible for MERIT, the audit found that many Aboriginal defendants are slipping through gaps in the service as they are more likely to have a problem with alcohol than illicit drugs. The report calls for an expansion of services so that Aboriginal defendants can have better access to MERIT, meaning that those dealing with alcohol abuse can participate, and as well as making MERIT available in those courts that have a high percentage of Aboriginal defendants.

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