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Evaluation of the Australian Capital Territory Drug Diversion Programs

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Author: Caitlin Hughes, Marian Shanahan, Alison Ritter, David McDonald, Florence Gray-Weale

Resource Type: General

Diversion refers to a variety of programs which divert alcohol and other drug (AOD) users into education and treatment responses or away from criminal justice system responses. Diversion has become one of the most used policy interventions in Australia (Hughes and Ritter 2008; Ritter et al. 2011). Once seen as controversial (Hughes 2009), it is now deemed an increasingly pragmatic response: increasing the capacity to reduce subsequent offending, reduce drug use and/or harmful use and decrease criminal justice costs.
Relative to other states and territories, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has been a leader in drug diversion provision; the first jurisdiction to introduce a court drug diversion program (1989) and the second to introduce civil penalties for cannabis possession (1992). This report outlines an evaluation of the ACT AOD diversion programs commissioned by the ACT Health Directorate. It was conducted by the Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and the ACT based consultancy Social Evaluation and Research. It used a systems approach, built on dialogue methods and incorporated collection of resources data and the development of a robust evaluation plan. The evaluation focussed on how the system of five programs operates together, rather than merely the inputs and outcomes of individual programs. This is a different approach to traditional methods of evaluation, and is based on the recognition that the outcomes from programs are often more affected by the intersections of programs, than any one individual program.
Our work entailed the following components and associated questions:
  1. Conceptual map of current system: What is the current map of the ACT drug diversion system in its entirety taking into account its contexts and the full range of programs? How are the programs delineated? How do clients move around the system? What outputs are being attained?
  2. Resources: What resources are being allocated and what are the costs of service provision?
  3. Evaluation roadmap: What indicators and evaluation designs can be established so as to assess implementation, outputs and outcomes (positive and negative, intended and unintended) from the ACT drug diversion system?
  4. Future system: Where can improvements be made, including but not limited to program access, program barriers to be overcome, referral systems, program components and so on?