Non-violent drug and alcohol offenders facing multiple charges that could put them behind bars for up to four years can plead guilty, be eased into a treatment order and avoid jail time under the ACT's proposed new court system.
Under proposed legislation that underpins the operation of Canberra's new drug and alcohol court set to start late this year, offenders will be required to adhere to strict directions and provide regular urine samples, possibly as many as two or three per week.
Treatment orders issued by the court may last as long as two years.
A breach of an order, such as when an offender tests positive in the sample, may result in a warrant being issued for the person's arrest and removal from the program.
The new court would extend the current alcohol drug and assessment service, which provides reports on habitual substance abusers for bail applications or sentencing, and can recommend treatment options.
A prisoner survey last year found 18 people held in Canberra's jail were convicted of illicit drug offences and 11 had less than four years to serve.
For their case to be heard in the new court, offenders must be be able to prove they are drug or alcohol dependent and not just under the influence when they offended.
In the ACT, possessing a drug of dependence, a controlled drug or prohibited substance without authorisation or prescription carries a maximum penalty of $7500 and/or two years imprisonment.
The new court would be a primary place of criminal justice for those offenders provided they can prove their dependency, as well as for those who commit non-violent crimes such as burglary and stealing to sustain their dependency.
The proposed legislation describes a drug and treatment order as "a high-level sentence" and a final alternative to full-time imprisonment.
Offenders who submit to an order will be given "high level supervision" and must live in the ACT during treatment.
Police would have the power to arrest an offender on the program "if the police officer believes on reasonable grounds the offender has failed to comply, or will fail to comply, with their [program] obligations".
Judges will also be empowered to bring a person before the court to review their progress.
"This reflects the therapeutic nature of the order, and the need for open and honest communication concerning drug or alcohol use to facilitate treatment".
Every eligible offender would be pre-assessed and the assessor given powers to "investigate matters the assessor considers appropriate".
The assessor would also be subject to court questioning.