The Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment (MERIT) Program
The Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program is a voluntary, pre-plea program for adults in the Local Court who have issues related to their alcohol and other drug use. MERIT provides access to a wide range of alcohol and other drug treatment services for 12 weeks while court matters are adjourned. MERIT has operated since 2000 and is currently available at 62 of the 137 Local Courts in NSW.
Aims of the MERIT program
MERIT aims to improve the health and well-being and reduce offending for adults who have issues related to their alcohol and other drug use and are in contact with the criminal justice system.
Benefits of participating in MERIT
MERIT has been shown to have positive outcomes for participants. Some of the benefits may be:
- Decreased alcohol and other drug use
- Decreased offending behaviour
- Improved health and well-being
- The possibility of a better sentence result.
Who can participate in MERIT?
The Magistrate approves participation and decides on eligibility. A person is eligible for MERIT if they are:
- an adult
- released on bail or do not require bail
- do not have an offence that will be heard in the District Court or a sexual assault matter.
A person must also be suitable for MERIT. The MERIT team determines suitability which includes that the person:
- has a treatable alcohol and other drug problem
- lives in or have a connection to an area (e.g. full-time work) that provides MERIT
- consent to participate.
How to access MERIT?
A Magistrate, solicitor or Police Officer can refer a person to MERIT. A person can also refer themselves. They are able to call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on: 1800 250 015 to be referred to a local MERIT team. A list of all the courts where MERIT is available is found here List of Local Courts.
What sort of treatment does MERIT offer?
The MERIT team will work with the participant to provide the best treatment and support. This may include:
- individual and group counselling
- case management
- welfare support and assistance
- in-patient or home-based detoxification
- opioid substitution therapy
- residential rehabilitation.
What are a participant’s responsibilities in the MERIT program?
- Participate in treatment for about 12 weeks
- Comply with all other bail conditions
- Appear before the Magistrate to provide an update on progress (usually at the 6 and 12 week points in treatment).
A participant can voluntarily withdraw from the program at any time. If a participant does not complete the program, the court case continues in the usual way. A participant is not penalised for leaving MERIT.
What are the MERIT program conditions?
A MERIT participant’s conditions, while on the program, include:
- Attending appointments regularly and on time
- Working towards treatment goals agreed between themselves and the MERIT team
- Behaving safely at appointments
The court may be informed if a participant does not follow the MERIT program conditions. The Magistrate may remove a participant from the program. If removed from MERIT, the participant’s court case continues in the usual way.
What happens when the participant completes the MERIT program?
When a participant completes the MERIT program, the Magistrate will hear the participant’s original hearing or sentencing matter(s).
The Magistrate will be provided with a report from the MERIT team which includes information about their treatment and any recommendations for future treatment.
If a participant does not complete the MERIT program there is no punitive action from the court. This means that if a participant is convicted of the offence(s) they were charged with, any penalty will relate to that offence only.
Which Local Court is MERIT Available?
For more details on how MERIT can help you please refer to the MERIT Leaflet (PDF , 50.6 KB)
Resources and Publications
To be referred to a MERIT team in your area call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015.