The Drug and Alcohol Health Services Inc. organisation has 2 offices located in Muswellbrook and Coffs Harbour, both of whom undertake the MERIT Program for their respective local courts.

Muswellbrook MERIT Program:

The Muswellbrook Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) Program provides coverage to both Singleton Local Court and Muswellbrook Local Court and provides treatment for those with local court charges and who have a drug misuse problem.

Coffs Harbour MERIT Program:

The Coffs Harbour office provides the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) Program through the Coffs Harbour Local Court and provides treatment for those with local court charges and who have a drug and/or alcohol problem.

What Is MERIT Program?

The Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment Program (MERIT) is aimed at reducing crime associated with illicit drug use and alcohol.

Are you using drugs (or alcohol if in the Coffs Harbour region) and facing Local Court? The MERIT program can help you to improve your health and lifestyle. Successful engagement in the program can be taken into account in sentencing.

Read on for a comprehensive overview of the MERIT Program:

MERIT is a special Magistrate’s program that will provide the opportunity for some defendants with drug (and alcohol in Coffs Harbour only) problems with work, on a voluntary basis, towards rehabilitation as part of the bail process.

Defendants can be identified (in the form of referral) by the Magistrate, Solicitor, Police or the defendant themselves as suitable for assessment for the MERIT program.

Based on the defendant’s voluntary interview and assessment by the MERIT team, the Magistrate may view the client as accepted into treatment as a condition of their bail. If accepted, a drug/alcohol treatment program will be developed that matches the defendant’s needs.

MERIT Eligibility Criteria

  • Suitable for release on bail;
  • An adult with an illicit or alcohol problem (Coffs Harbour only does alcohol too);
  • Willing to consent to a drug and/or alcohol treatment program;
  • Not involved in offences related to physical violence, sexual assault or matters that will be heard in the District Court (indictable offences);
  • Not involved in pending matters of a violent or sexual assault nature;
  • Deemed suitable for drug/alcohol treatment and has a treatable problem;
  • Approved to participate in the program by the Magistrate.

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 and treatment is generally prior to any pleas being made with the adjournment of court matters until the completion of the program (12 weeks).

If Eligible, What Next?

Clients attend an interview with the MERIT team to assess suitability and assess the type of treatment that is suitable for them. This information will be made available for the Magistrate. Types of treatments include:

  • Detoxification
  • Pharmacotherapies
  • Residential rehabilitation
  • Individual and group counselling
  • Case management and numerous forms of welfare support and assistance

Who Can Help Me With My Decision

You should carefully consider your decision to enter the MERIT Program. If you decide to enter the program, it may assist you to avoid future offending behaviour and to develop skills that may be of some benefit to you in life.

If you choose not to enter the program your court case will continue in the usual way.

You should discuss the options available to you with your legal representative before making a decision. A Legal Aid Solicitor is available for people wanting to participate or if you have a private/your own solicitor, you may wish to ask them about the MERIT Program.