The MERIT Program
What is it?
MERIT is an anacronym for Magistrate’s Early Referral into Treatment.
MERIT is a program available in most Local Courts in New South Wales that provides the opportunity for adult defendants with substance abuse problems to work, on a voluntary basis, towards rehabilitation as part of the bail process.
What is the goal of MERIT?
The primary goal of the MERIT program is to break the substance abuse-crime cycle by involving defendants in treatment and rehabilitation.
Who is suitable?
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.
Often the offending was related to substance misuse.
Who can identify suitable candidates?
Defendants can be identified by the Magistrate, solicitor, police or the defendants themselves as suitable for assessment for the MERIT Program.
What happens in the MERIT program?
A MERIT treatment plan is developed to match the defendant’s individual needs. The Court may make the defendant’s involvement in MERIT a condition of bail.
Defendants are closely case-managed by the MERIT team throughout the Program and the Magistrate receives regular reports on the participant. The final hearing and sentence generally coincide with the completion of the MERIT Program. Magistrates are then able to consider the defendant’s progress in treatment as part of final sentencing.
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.
At sentencing, the sentence handed down generally reflects successful completion of MERIT and also take into account any recommendations for further treatment.
What type of treatment is available?
• Treatments offered will vary according to what is appropriate for the particular participant, and may include:
o methadone and other pharmacotherapies
o residential rehabilitation
o individual and group counselling
o case management and numerous forms of welfare support and assistance.
Call Pete 0435 965 017