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MERIT Program launched at Tamworth.

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Sandy Macdonald National Party Senator for NSW 26 February 2003

MERIT Program launched at Tamworth NSW National Party Senator Sandy Macdonald has welcomed the launch of the Magistrates’ Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) Program in Tamworth today.

“The NSW and Commonwealth Governments have joined together in a national approach to divert drug offenders from the criminal justice system into treatment programs,” Senator Macdonald said.

MERIT is a voluntary program based in the Magistrate’s court, which offers treatment options for illicit drug users. Suitable offenders are bailed for up to three months to undergo treatment and each offender’s progress is reported back to the Court and taken into account when sentencing is determined.

“In Tamworth, the Magistrate’s Court, the Police, the New England Area Health Service and non-government treatment service providers will all work together to help break the cycle of illicit drug related crime.”

“The program is open to offenders with a drug problem who are suitable for bail and who, most importantly, wish to undertake treatment,” Senator Macdonald said.

After being assessed, treatment activities will be tailored to the needs of each person participating in the MERIT program. Among the treatment options offered will be detoxification, pharmacotherapy, counselling, and residential and day rehabilitation programs.

“The MERIT program fits well with the community's overall focus on stemming the factors that lead to crime rather than relying on punishment as a crime deterrent.”

“The Federal Government will spend $31.8 million over four years for the implementation of the Illicit Drug Diversion Initiative in NSW and the Magistrates’ Early Referral Into Treatment Program (MERIT) has emerged as the major component of the NSW diversion program.”

“At the end of 2002, Prime Minister John Howard announced funding for the second phase of the Illicit Drug Diversion Initiative and from July 2003 an additional $215 million over four years will be available to diversion initiatives nationally,” Senator Macdonald said.

Media Contact: Rachel Kingsford Smith 6766 6998 / 0427 570 506