REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: A different approach to managing crime

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Community Corrections officer Emma Bond and Anna Winter, team leader, run the court-mandated drug diversion program in Tasmania's North-West. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Community Corrections officer Emma Bond and Anna Winter, team leader, run the court-mandated drug diversion program in Tasmania's North-West. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Maybe I spend too much time in court covering cases which are far too serious for my sanity, but I was genuinely shocked at the change in tone when I first attended the drug court.

Where typically a courtroom is a place of bizarre formality, tradition and seriousness, on Thursdays the Magistrates Courts of North-West Tasmania are relaxed, jovial and encouraging.

When Magistrate Tamara Jago is running the court mandated drug diversion program in these courts she is smiling, enthusiastic and full of praise for the criminals in her care.

She rewards their minor achievements, such as an extended period without smoking methamphetamine, or rejoining their community sporting clubs, with admiration and congratulations.

She speaks highly of their ability to abstain from drugs, to reconnect with family and to look toward their futures, their hopefully bright, drug-free futures.

This was certainly the situation when I sat in on the graduation of a man I have referred to as Steven in a podcast I have made about the program.

Magistrate Jago was so proud of Steven, in fact, that she spoke about him and his achievements in the drug rehabilitation program at a magistrates conference soon after.

I first came across the region's drug courts after a year of reporting on crime for The Advocate, and this atmosphere sucked me in.

I have always been drawn to programs and systems which treat drug addiction as a disease, rather than a crime, and I was amazed to find those two ideas working in concert in Tasmania.

I spend a lot of time in the region's courts reporting on the darkest, most harrowing aspects of humanity where the end result is often a lengthy stint in an overcrowded, underfunded prison which does little to rehabilitate its inmates.

So to find a courtroom where jokes are being made, where the defendant is smiling, and where strategies to genuinely improve that person's prospects are being discussed, was utopian.

Of course, if a participant in the program is not actually doing well, Magistrate Jago's authoritative, no-nonsense manner returns instantly, and the looming threat of jail is pushed one step closer to the defendant.

But when effective, when a participant wants to turn their life around and control their addiction and cease their offending, the CMD program appears as a beacon of light in an often dark system.

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