NSW communities are facing a twin crisis of a lack of treatment and rehabilitation facilities and worsening Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system, putting young lives at risk.
Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Linda Scott said the problem was especially prevalent in regional areas and required urgent action.
“This issue was raised at our LGNSW annual conference in October last year, where councils backed calls for greater State Government investment in initiatives such as detox and residential rehabilitation and treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration,” Cr Scott said.
“The conference was particularly mindful of recent initiatives in Dubbo and Lismore addressing the underlying cause of Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system.
“I think what we are seeing is local government driven to action by grassroots demand for constructive solutions to this twin crisis of Aboriginal over-representation and illicit drug use.
“The Government’s ‘Ice Inquiry’ has only reinforced what councils already knew, with the inquiry report recommending enhanced drug treatment services in regional NSW.”
Cr Scott said it was encouraging that the Government was taking the issue seriously and committed to addressing the harm drugs were doing in regional communities, but that concern needed to be backed by greater funding in the next State budget.
“It’s disappointing that at a time when more needs to be done, especially in the regions, the NSW Government recently shut down facilities like the low security Yetta Dhinnakkal Centre in Brewarrina Shire and the Ivanhoe Warrakirri Correctional Centre in Central Darling Shire,” she said.
“Not only were these facilities significant employers in their communities, but they also had a positive approach to rehabilitation. The Yetta Dhinnakkal Centre, for example, delivered tailored programs targeting first-time young Aboriginal offenders through culturally relevant intensive case management.
“LGNSW wrote to the Corrections Minister and the Premier calling on them to reconsider the closures, to no avail.
“One way the Government could help is to investigate the possibility of repurposing these sites as to drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.”
Cr Scott said LGNSW was calling on the Government to respond to the crisis in this year’s budget by backing the recommendations of the ice inquiry, which support increased investment in drug detoxification and rehabilitation services in regional NSW.
“The need for a Drug Court and detoxification and rehabilitation centre in Dubbo has been particularly recognised in repeated inquiries,” Cr Scott said.
“Councils are also calling for State and Federal funding support to help address the critical shortage of medical specialists in the regions, which is an essential element in efforts to address drug-related health issues.”
Cr Scott said LGNSW would also welcome working with NSW Police and the NSW Government more broadly to discuss effective drug use prevention, rehabilitation and treatment strategies and how these could be supported by councils.