Expanding police drug diversion programs for use/possession offences in Australia: A collaborative approach

A/Prof Caitlin Hughes1,2, A/Prof Kate Seear3, Professor Alison Ritter4, Professor Lorraine Mazerolle5

1Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia,

2National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW, Sydney, Australia,

3Monash University, Melbourne, Australia,

4Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW, Sydney, Australia,

5University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Australian criminal justice responses relating to personal use and possession of illicit drugs are subject to frequent public debate. However, there are systemic gaps in knowledge about how Australian drug laws are enforced: such as how many people end up in court for use and possession alone. This is an important omission as drug diversion, whereby offenders are diverted away from criminal justice sanction or into drug education/treatment, has been employed for many years in Australia.

Following a new national commitment to expand drug diversion, this presentation outlines findings from a Commonwealth Department of Health funded project that used a collaborative approach to assess the reach of Australian drug diversion programs for use/possession and identify strategies to expand diversion. It mapped laws and diversion programs by state/territory; analysed Australian Bureau of Statistics data on all criminal justice system responses to use/possession over the period 2010-11 to 2014-15; and consulted 24 experts covering criminal justice, health and non-government organisations.

It showed that on average 55% of offenders in Australia with a principal offence of use/possession were diverted by police away from the courts, but the rate of diversion varied significantly across states and was declining in many. Multiple avenues to expand drug diversion were identified including trialling newer models of diversion delivery, streamlining police referral systems and introducing a legislative requirement to divert eligible offenders. The work further showed the benefits of a collaborative approach to assessing criminal justice responses, as evidenced by some proposals having already been implemented.


Caitlin Hughes is an Associate Professor in Criminology and Drug Policy and Matthew Flinders Fellow at the Centre for Crime Policy and Research, Flinders University. She is also Visiting Academic at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW and Vice-President of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy. Her research focuses on critically analysing the role of laws and law enforcement in responding to illicit drugs and building more evidence-informed approaches. She works extensively with police and practitioners from within and outside Australia and has a track record of contributing to evidence-informed reforms.

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