Australian criminal justice responses relating to personal use and possession of illicit drugs are subject to frequent public debate. However, there are systemic gaps in knowledge about how Australian drug laws are actually enforced: such as how many people actually end up in court for use and possession alone and how many are being diverted away from criminal sanction. This is an important omission as diversion, whereby offenders are diverted away from criminal justice sanction or into drug education/treatment, constitutes one of the core drug policy responses to illicit drug use and drug-related offending in Australia. Quantifying the national reach of Australian drug diversion programs is thus increasingly important.
This project sought to provide the first comprehensive analysis of Australian criminal justice responses relating to personal use and possession of illicit drugs and the reach of Australian drug diversion programs. The specific aims of the project were:
- To outline current Australian laws and approaches taken to illicit drug use and possession in each jurisdiction (including programs on alternatives to arrest).
- To assess the scale of criminal justice response to use/possession in Australia over the period 2010-11 to 2014-15, including the number of people detected, prosecuted and/or sentenced for use/possession, the number of people diverted away from criminal justice proceedings, and the populations that are most and least likely to receive a drug diversion by state/territory and demographic factors.
- To identify barriers and facilitators to the diversion of use/possess offenders in Australia (e.g. legal barriers, programmatic design, resourcing).
Professor Alison Ritter, Social Policy Research Centre, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW Sydney
Associate Professor Kate Seear, University of Monash
Professor Lorraine Mazerolle, University of Queensland
The project comprised three parts. First, the current laws and definitions as well as policy relating to “personal use and possession” of illicit drugs in each state and territory in Australia and existing diversion programs were systematically identified and documented. Second, three different sets of unpublished official crime data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) were compiled on police detections, court actions and imprisonment for drug use and possession that occurred in Australia over a five-year period (2010-11 to 2014-15). In the final part 24 experts covering police, justice, health, and non-government organisations were consulted about the barriers and facilitators to the diversion of use/possess offenders in Australia.
Hughes, C., Seear, K., Ritter, A., & Mazerolle, L. (2018). Criminal justice responses relating to personal use and possession of illicit drugs: The reach of Australian drug diversion programs and barriers and facilitators to expansion. A report for the Commonwealth Department of Health. Sydney: NDARC, UNSW. Full report available here.