The second quarterly figures released today show the Government’s Alcohol Mandatory Treatment system is having a significant impact in taking chronic alcoholics off the streets and giving them the opportunity to turn their lives around, writes Robyn Lambley (pictured), Minister for Alcohol Rehabilitation.
It was an opportunity to remake her life and she took it: she turned from regular heavy drinking – of up to 30 cans of full strength beer in a sitting and this since 1987 – to being sober, taking on full-time employment, progressing in her job, looking after family, aspiring to rent her own flat.
Erica Lowah was one of three to graduate from the SMART Court program last Thursday. The three are the first in Alice Springs to complete the program since its introduction in July last year.
SMART stands for “Substance Misuse Assessment and Referral for Treatment”. Sentencing of offenders with serious alcohol and/or drug problems is deferred while they undertake programs as ordered by the court. The programs are tailored to individual needs but the bottom line is total abstinence.
Ms Lowah had been charged with high range drink driving and driving while disqualified and these were not her first drink driving offences. By entering the SMART Court program, she was given a chance to avoid gaol time and to get her life back on track.
A cake was brought into the court to celebrate the achievements of the graduates. Everyone was beaming. The usual formalities, already not great in this court, dropped away. I was even allowed to get out my pocket camera and take a snap, with the quietly proud Ms Lowah agreeing to have her photo published.
Magistrate David Bamber joked with graduate Benjamin Smith that his was the first SMART Court romance: while on the program he entered and has remained in a relationship with a young woman who is also a program participant.
Mr Bamber reflected briefly on his experience of this very different court. The legislation was introduced quickly and he'd had little idea of what his role would involve. Visiting a similar court in New South Wales, he learnt that their main 'problem' was that people wanted to keep coming back, to let the court know how well they were doing. One NSW graduate had even brought his one-day-old baby to show the court's team.
The stories reveal the importance of personal relationships in this court (in contrast to other courts where the personal is suppressed). The relationships obviously have their boundaries but there is an observable genuine warmth between the court's team and the participants, especially those – not surprisingly – who respond well to the chance they've been given. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Erica Lowah receives her SMART court graduation certificate from Magistrate David Bamber.