Booze Rehab to be Trialled in Illawarra

 
Wollongong is one of eight local courts across NSW piloting a government program that is addressing alcohol dependency in criminal offenders.
 
The program gives magistrates the power to refer law-breakers with serious alcohol issues into 12 weeks of counselling and alcohol rehabilitation, before sentencing. Four people have already been referred to the program from Wollongong since it began in August.
 
The initiative is based on the already successful early intervention drug program MERIT (Magistrates' Early Referral Into Treatment). Alcohol MERIT is an extension of that service. The new alcohol arm of the program addresses offences in which the primary issue was alcohol, NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said yesterday. "Evidence shows that this program works to break the drug cycle," he said.
 
"We hope to replicate this success in treating defendants with serious alcohol dependency. "By addressing the defendant's alcohol problem, the program may address what is often the primary reason behind their offending behaviour."
 
While the most recent crime statistics showed alcohol-fuelled crime was stable in Wollongong, Mr Hatzistergos hoped the program would drive down re-offending figures. Berkeley-based Kedesh Rehabilitation Services has been awarded the tender to run the pilot program in the Illawarra.
 
The Government had provided funding for one additional psychologist under the program, but the worker would have a range of resources and support to draw on, from both the area health service and non-government organisations, Kedesh chief executive Mark Buckingham said.
 
While in Wollongong yesterday, Mr Hatzistergos also announced $225,000 to assist domestic violence victims obtain apprehended violence orders in two courts in the Illawarra. The Domestic Violence Practitioner Scheme would provide a solicitor at Wollongong and Port Kembla courts on list days in order to give victims free legal representation when applying for an AVO.
 
Member for Wollongong Noreen Hay applauded the news, saying the scheme would help women who could not afford legal representation or did not qualify for Legal Aid.