The ACT's new Drug and Alcohol Sentencing List will accept 35 people from when it starts on December 3 until June 2021 as the program is trialled in Canberra.
The alternative sentencing arrangements will give offenders the opportunity to spend time in rehabilitation rather than jail to help reduce reoffending.
The scheme will be run through the Supreme Court, and the Magistrates Court will have the ability to refer an offender to be assessed for a drug and alcohol treatment order, a Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman said.
"The staged increase in participation through to 2021 ensures that agencies and relevant stakeholders have the best opportunity to implement a robust service system," the spokeswoman said.
She said it was to ensure the model was "fit for purpose and suitable" for the ACT criminal justice and health systems. The goal of schemes like this was long-term behavioural change in offenders.
"They have been shown to be an effective mechanism for rehabilitating people whose serious criminal offending is perpetuated by substance abuse," she said.
A 2008 evaluation of the NSW drug court by the Bureau of Crime Statistics showed those who successfully completed the program were 37 per cent less likely than offenders in the comparison group to be convicted of another offence, the spokeswoman said.
She said offenders who participated in the program, including those who weren't successful in it, were 17 per cent less likely to be convicted of any further offence.
Acting Justice Lorraine Walker has been tasked with the job of implementing the scheme.
She said the sentencing option - which has been referred to as the drug and alcohol court but is not a standalone court - was an innovative approach to help address the issue of addiction in Canberra.
She said she, along with most of the community, had been affected by a loved one with drug addiction.
This is unsurprising, given more than 3 million Australians aged 14 years and over admitted to having used illicit drugs in the 12 months prior to the national Drug Strategy Household Survey in 2016.
While the strong focus is on rehabilitation as opposed to jail time, Acting Justice Walker said it was not a soft option.
"This allows the court to operate in a very different way to try and address this intractable issue," Acting Justice Walker said.
"I want the community to understand this is not a soft option for offenders. The end game, yes, it is about their rehabilitation and to see them integrated into the community, but it's for the safety and benefit of the whole community."
At an information session this week, Acting Justice Walker said the new sentencing option would help address the "us versus them" mentality many offenders held towards figures of authority.
"It's very easy, if you've done something wrong in your life, to rock up to court, have it dealt with once and then walk away from it thinking, 'These people know nothing about what my life is like'," she said.
"[This sentencing option] will create some accountability because people will keep having to front up to people who know their personal situation."
Acting Justice Walker said drug and alcohol treatment orders would require offenders to comply with several conditions including returning to court when directed to provide an update on their rehabilitation, and to give up to three urine samples a week.
She said offenders sentenced to these orders would be appointed corrections and health case officers.
To qualify for a drug and alcohol treatment order, offenders must fit certain criteria including that they plead guilty to eligible offences and be sentenced to between one and four years in jail.
A suitability assessment is also conducted, looking at criteria including whether the offender's dependence on drugs or alcohol substantially contributed to their crimes.
When offenders are found to be suitable, Acting Justice Walker can suspend the custodial part of a sentence in favour of a drug and alcohol treatment order.
The order will cover at least the first year of a sentence. If completed successfully, it will be replaced by a good behaviour order for the remainder of the sentence.
- This is part of a series by the Sunday Canberra Times exploring illicit drug addiction, the impact it has on families and the community, and what's being done to help.