Improving Retention in Treatment in the South Australian Magistrates Court Treatment Intervention Court.

Ms Sue King1, Magistrate Brett Dixon1, Ms Laura Capozzi3

1Courts Administration Authority, Adelaide, Australia, 2Courts Administration Authority, Adelaide, Australia, 3Offenders Aid & Rehabilitation Services Inc., Adelaide , Australia

This paper is in two parts – it provides an overview of the Treatment Intervention Court operations and then describes a new initiative to improve motivation to change and increase participation and engagement in the court funded therapeutic treatment program. This in turn has assisted in compliance and completion of overall program requirements.

The South Australian Magistrates Court Treatment Intervention Court incorporates treatment streams for offenders with mental impairment: substance dependence and co-morbid issues. There is a 6 month long substance dependence stream and a 12 month stream (formally known as the Drug Court).

There is evidence that participants that complete drug court treatment are less likely to reoffend than those who do not, the low completion rates in programs are an ongoing source of concern.  While some researchers have suggested that low completion rates reflect poorly upon the functioning of drug court programs and significant practice changes are necessary – this ignores two other important considerations: substance dependence is it a chronic and relapsing illness and for some offenders their participation is motivated by the desire to avoid prison rather than the desire to stop using drugs.

Determining who is motivated to change and therefore who is treatment ready is an important part of the assessment process and research has shown that offenders who are assessed as ‘treatment ready’ demonstrate increased engagement in treatment and reduced attrition rates which consequently leads to a reduction in recidivism. Motivation to change contributes to treatment readiness and it’s important to address this prior to treatment to increase a participant’s chances to remain in treatment and on the Program.

The SA Magistrates Court runs a Treatment Intervention Court along the lines of a traditional Drug Court model. Screening for treatment readiness was introduced into the assessment process using the URICA – University of Rhode Island Change Assessment Scale in additional to information from the assessment interview to improve the identification of defendants who are motivated to change their drug use and those who have no intention of changing or are still just thinking about change. Those who were assessed as not treatment ready were not recommended to participate.

However as motivation to change is a dynamic process this front end strategy did not stop people relapsing into drug use when their motivation levels dropped.  Other strategies used by the Magistrate and the case managers to encourage and maintain motivation include regularly seeking feedback from participants using a survey tool develop in consultation with Dr Andrew Day and use of rewards and motivational interviewing techniques.

One solution to the problem of how to widen access to the Treatment Intervention Court for those offenders who need treatment but are not treatment ready and to assist participants who are at risk of program termination has been the introduction of a pre-treatment Treatment Readiness group program, developed by OARS Community Transitions, the non-government organisation who delivers treatment services for the Treatment Intervention Court.

The second half of the paper will discuss the aims of the treatment readiness group and describe how it has been utilised in the Treatment Intervention Court to improve access to more participants and to improve retention in treatment and compliance with program requirements.


Laura manages the Clinical Services Programs at OARS which include: Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services; Domestic Violence Services; Gambling Services; Comorbidity and Court Programs. She also has a policy role within OARS and undertakes  regular evaluation of programs to look at ways to improve service delivery and outcomes for clients. She has a Masters in Psychology (Forensic) and the focus of her thesis was looking at the South Australian Treatment Intervention Court (TIC) Dropout. Specifically she investigated ways to improve retention in the treatment provided to participants completing Drug Court Programs. She has been employed with Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Services (OARS) since 2011 and is an experienced facilitator of MRT and DV/MRT group programs for offenders referred from the magistrates court.   She  presented at the National Family and Domestic Violence Conference in 2015. She has  experience in counselling and group therapy using a variety of therapeutic techniques including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Relapse Prevention.


Brett Dixon studied Law at Adelaide University, graduating in 1978.  Completed articles of clerkship in 1978, and began practice in general practice for Cleland and Co, primarily in areas of criminal law, matrimonial law and injury claims.Purchased the Elizabeth branch office of Cleland and Co in 1981, and then worked entirely in that area building the practise from a 3 day a week branch office, to a thriving general practise with 4 solicitors.

Mr Dixon found special interest in criminal law and developed a large clientele, predominantly consisting of clients from lower socio-economic backgrounds, many of whom had drug and/or mental health issues as factors contributing to offending behaviour.  This experience, particularly at a time when court run rehabilitation programs were thin on the ground, has been a helpful introduction into the work that Mr Dixon is now involved with in the Treatment Intervention Court.Mr Dixon was appointed to the bench in 2009, and has been the Magistrate running the Treatment intervention Programs in the Adelaide Magistrates Court since March 2015.



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