The Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program is an interagency initiative of the Department of Attorney General and Justice (DAGJ),the Chief Magistrate’s Office, NSW Health and the NSW Police Force.
The MERIT program is a pre-plea drug diversion scheme based in NSW local courts. The target population is adult defendants with drug problems who are motivated to undertake drug treatment. MERIT aims to intervene in the cycle of drug use and crime by addressing the health and social welfare issues considered to be instrumental in bringing defendants into contact with the criminal justice system.
Acceptance onto the MERIT program is guided by a deliberately inclusive set of eligibility criteria designed to target a large proportion of those defendants appearing in local courts with a demonstrable history of drug problems.
Participation in MERIT is voluntary and does not require an admission of guilt. MERIT participants are not required to be drug dependent, but must have a drug problem that influences their offending behaviour. MERIT offers drug treatment within a harm minimisation framework.
The MERIT program was designed to complement the local court system where matters typically progress from initial hearing to sentencing within about three months. Defendants are referred to the program at or before their initial court appearance and, if assessed as eligible and suitable, may be accepted onto the program and undertake supervised drug treatment.
Program completion generally coincides with the final hearing and sentencing of the defendant.
The MERIT program is only available within NSW local courts (defendants appearing before District and Children’s Courts, for example, are ineligible).