According to the Australian Association of Social Workers AASW, social workers are committed to three core social values: respect for persons, social justice, and professional integrity. Social workers have strong commitments to human rights and social justice, taking into consideration the client, family, and the community needs. In court, they are mainly witnesses of fact or supporters for the client. It is important to understand how human social workers work within the law system, and how they can help more their clients.
Magistrate Court’s Intervention Programs have several courts that seek to tackle the original causes for crime in order to diminish the chances of recidivism. According to the Courts Administration Authority of South Australia website, the Drug Court is in the Adelaide Magistrate Court. The Drug court aims to diminish or/and stop drug use, and prevent recidivism. It involves intensive judicial supervision, mandatory drug testing, strict bail conditions, increasing penalties, and treatment and support services for drug abuser, in order to break the cycles of using drugs and crimes. According to some studies, the Drug court programs are having a positive influence in diminishing re-offending. The Drug Court Program is 12 months with clear and concise rules, and defendants have to comply with them throughout the program, or they are sent to custody
This paper will provide a first, a case synopsis by describing a case proceeding observed in the Drug Diversion Court. Second, there will be a description and identification of the legislation used on the offences. Third, in intervention there is a description of the court’s ruling and its purpose. Fourth, the possible social work skills and roles in John’ case will be explained. Finally, social justice and ethical issues regarding the case will be described.
The Drug Diversion Court is located in room 17, on the third floor of the Magistrate Courts of Adelaide. To enter this room, people have to ask permission to the security guard. There are approximately 20 chairs, which are occupied by a small number of lawyers, and the rest by offenders. The plaintiff seats at the right, and the defendant seats on the left side of the room. When the judge enters and leaves the room everyone has to stand as a symbol of respect. The secretary would give the judge all the cases folders, meanwhile another staff member would read the summary of the case, describing facts, such as the number of drug tests taken, and if they were negative or positive. The judge would give encouraging words to those who passed, or sentences to those who failed the drug treatment program. Reviewing cases was fast. Every offender had to bring their folder, and the lawyer would sit next to them. The prosecution did not say anything unless she was requesting more information. There was also a police officer next to the prosecutor, hearing particular cases. Unfortunately, this day the court was only hearing reviewing cases, but the prosecution provided me with a copy of John’s case.
John started the 12-month Treatment Intervention Program on 2014, and was ended when he removed his home detention anklet and left a few weeks later. During his time in the program, his drug tests resulted positive in cannabis, consumed large quantities of alcohol, recorded a home detention breach, did not go to MRT, and lost his program folder. According to the Legal Services Commission of South Australia, the court proceedings would have been the following: before the defendant appears in court, he should have legal advice. The secretary would introduce the case, the police prosecutor would outline the facts of the case (given to the defendant before the hearing), and if debated, the defendant could question the facts another day. After hearing the facts, John pleaded guilty to the multiple offences. The prosecution then would continue by providing his criminal record in court (which includes felonies since he was 14 for obtaining money to buy drugs) and the prosecution would explain any injury, loss or damaged caused by John. After reading the facts of the case, describing the offences and personal circumstances of the defendant, the prosecution requested immediate sentence of imprisonment. Then, the defendant’s lawyer argued that Frawley’s youth and lack of history of adulthood are mitigating factors, suggesting a non-parole period in his sentence, and finding that there is potential for rehabilitation. After considering all relevant factors of the case, the judge decided to give him a sentence of imprisonment, convicting each offence. In total we has sentenced to 25 months imprisonment.
The judge considered s.11 of the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act, and he considered that other sentences than imprisonment would be inappropriate in John’s case. John was charged with multiple offences which he pleaded guilty. There were five charges for serious criminal trespass and theft. According to the Consolidation Act 1935, he was punished under 20A (a) home invasion, which is criminal trespassing. An offence (other than a serious firearm offence) is regarded a serious offence if the maximum penalty of imprisonment is at least 5 years. In the Criminal Law Consolidation Act (1935) Section 170 Serious criminal trespass in residential buildings is a maximum of 15 years, and if aggravated, imprisonment for life. Section 170a Serious criminal trespass in occupied residential building is maximum 3 years, and if aggravated, 5 years. Section 134 Theft’s penalty is maximum 10 years.
Under the same act, in 19B there can be a deferral of sentence for rehabilitation and other purposes, adjourning the proceedings, and granting bail according to the Bail Act 1985. The judge applied 19B when he postponed John’s sentence, and allowed him to enter into the intervention program. He was under the 12-months program of drug intervention. A drug treatment order may be requested by defendants with alcohol or drug problems, and who had pleaded guilty, other than sexual offences. If DTO is suspended or breached, the offender has to normally finish his sentence in custody. One of his crime was breaching the curfew of the bail conditions imposed by the Youth court. Under the Bail Act of 1985 SA, s17 (1) states that non-compliance with bail conditions is an offence, and guilty of max. $10,000 or imprisonment for 2 years.
Finally, the judge applied section 18A in sentencing for multiple offences: “it states that if a guilty defendant has committed several offences, the crown can sentence him with one penalty for all or some of them, without exceeding the total amount of each offences’ penalties.” In total, the judge sentenced him 25 months imprisonment.
After taking into consideration the facts and the personal circumstances of John, the judge decided to sentence him with imprisonment, and to convict each offence. The judge explained that he must impose a sentence and deter him from reoffending, and others from offending. The judge said that John is now an adult and he must take responsibilities of his action, even more so if they are serious crimes. Breaking into the victims’ home is a serious and frightening experience for them, which they could suffer for many years, if not their entire life. He is likely to commit another serious offence if not punished, which is suggested by his criminal record.
In regards to the prosecution asking for a non-parole period, the judge fixed a low parole-period because of his age and the lack of being in adult custody. By balancing these factors with the gravity of these offences, the judge gave him a non-parole period of one year. The courts try to solve social justice issues, the effects of poverty, and the professional and rehabilitation services instead of imprisonment. The Drug’s Court main goal is denunciation and rehabilitation. At the beginning, the defendant had the opportunity to rehabilitate, but after breaking the program’s conditions, he was fixed a prison sentence. Therefore the court illustrates how their main goals are reached.
Social Work Role
John is 19 years old and has been reported alcohol and drug history since he was 10 years old. He started stealing and breaking into houses to obtain money to buy drugs since he was 14. He had a traumatic difficult childhood after his father died, and his mother put him into the State care, which he had multiple placements while growing up. His mother had serious psychiatric and drug history. Because of his history, in order to make progress and have a brilliant future, he will need assistance required by trained counsellors. John had a limited education, thus it is recommended that he studies and finds a job in order to avoid being in State run institutions. Social workers could help him to calculate and invest in his future, and determine long-term goals to achieve behavior change. Also, Koning & Kwant (2008, 64) argue that social workers can address issues like poverty, unemployment, problems with the police, and lack of healthy relationship in abusers’ life. Social workers could run programs to improve Frawley’s social skills and repair his relationships.
Regarding his youth, John could have had help from social workers in order to cope with his traumatic childhood, and maybe prevent his drug addiction. According to Times (2006, p2) social workers should have a heavier involvement with children of drug abusers. For example, in Scotland 5% of all children under 16 have a drug using parent (Times 2006, p3). In addition, Dennis et al (2013, 160) argue that social workers are key for identifying individuals who are prone to be drug addicts, and to treat them with time ahead. Social workers could have had a positive role on John’s life if he was given counselling since he was put into foster homes. There should be a better treatment of these children, in order to empower their future.
In John’s case, the social worker can help him by getting him into a program to stop taking drugs in less coercive circumstances. John failed the twelve month program, and it would be necessary to go further into his case and discover the reason for this failure. As Kennedy suggests (2012, 122) the social worker could be a counsellor, rehabilitation consultant, or a drug policy manager. Social workers consider that any person highly motivated can be a law-binding citizen if they receive adequate counselling, and chances to receive academic, vocational, and social education opportunities (Brownell and Roberts 20022). Therefore, John still has potential to change and live peacefully in society, under the right guidance of social workers.
Human service workers can also have several roles in courts and tribunals: as witness, lay advocates by assisting in making applications, prepare submissions, and appear on the client’s behalf before tribunals (Jo Brocato & Wagner 2003, 123). The social worker could be a supporter, arbitrator, negotiator, conciliator, and facilitator (Kennedy et all 2012, 122). Moreover, it would be necessary to help John, because the sentence might have been too rigid. Social workers can motivate John to demand and respect for his human rights. Social workers can help John to review his sentence because it was too rigid for a chronic abuser, and it is inadequate punishment for not following the conditions of the program.
Social justice and ethical issues
John started the 12-month Treatment Intervention Program, and was ended when he removed his home detention anklet and left a few weeks later. During his time in the program, he had positive drug test results in cannabis, and consumed large quantities of alcohol. Social workers could regard this not as John’s failure to comply with the rules; instead than the judicial system is not providing him with the just opportunity to succeed, due to the rigidity of the program.
Regarding concerns of social justice, law is insufficient and sometimes compromises human service values. One main concern is that rehabilitation of the addict is many times less important than the primary goal of societal protection. For example, relapse is regarded as a violation of the program’s conditions, and the person is withdrawn from the program. But, relapse is a common effect among drug addicts, and it is part of the process to achieve sobriety (Burman 2004, 200). The intervention program seems unfair if they are aiming to change the offender’s behavior, but they are putting obstacles to achieve it. Furthermore, Koning et al (2008, 67) argue the emphasis should not be on complete abstinence of using drugs, rather in the improvement of quality of life in drug-prone cities, and more access to rehabilitation treatments for addicts. Therefore, John should fight for his right to be give a real opportunity to change. He is a chronic abuser since he was 10, and a rigid and harsh program won’t provide him with the tools to succeed. Substance abuse programs are a good alternative to incarceration, but they need to be adapted for substance abusers and their long-lasting recovery.
According to the Courts Administration Authority of South Australia website, there is research stating that abusers who have been imposed treatment are as likely to succeed as those who entered voluntarily. On the other hand, Burman (2004, 199) suggests that coercive programs lead to short-term success, because the social control can compromise the willingness to behavioral and attitude change. Furthermore, Jo Brocato & Wagner (2003, 123) argue that social workers have the ethical concern of obeying the law and in promoting the client’s self-determination. They claim that true change in behavior must be voluntary, and that the intervention program should change to be more consistent to values of self-determination and social justice. In order to succeed, the authors claim that offenders need to establish their own objectives, and to learn how to solve their problems, and achievement should be based on their own goals, not imposed ones.
Another concern is the proportionality in sentencing, where the punishment cannot be greater than the offence. In John’s case, it seems unfair to be punished by imprisonment. Although he had a positive result in the drug tests, he did not commit a crime against another person, and imprisonment won’t help with his recovery, it could make it worse. Social workers would consider it unfair to have a rigid intervention program, without second chances, and to have a harsh penalty of imprisonment if failure to follow the program. Incarceration does not seem proportional as a punishment as a result of not following the conditions of the intervention program.
There are social expectations to denounce crimes and rehabilitate offenders. The public wants to see a decrease in crime rates, and feel more save in the community under a punitive system. The judge convicted John of each of his offences with imprisonment after not following the conditions of the program. Social workers would suggest a more rehabilitative based model, where the needs of the offender are also met, and there is a better balance of priorities in society. Consequently, in order to protect the client’s human rights and achieve social justice, social workers would recommend not having a rigid program, where there is no need of complete abstinence, and there is more self-determination in their goals. They believe, that under a voluntary program, there would be true change in drug abuser offenders, and could promote a better quality of life and society well-being.
But it is also important to consider the ethical issues of the individual, as well as the rights of the other members of society. If the results of intervention programs have resulted in a reduction of crime, it is important to continue to develop this kind of programs. But, on the other hand, the cases when these programs have failed, need to be revised, in order to understand better the reasons for this situation and make the necessary changes.
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