Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 12:47 UK

Drug court to offer addicts help

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Justice Secretary Jack Straw explains how the drug court tries to break the cycle of reoffending

The first court in Wales dedicated to dealing with drug offenders has been opened in Cardiff by Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

Drug courts aim to break the cycle of reoffending and drive down drug-related crime such as robbery.

Addicts who would otherwise go to jail will agree to a strict drugs testing programme. They can be jailed if they fail tests or commit another offence.

The new court will operate from Cardiff magistrates' court.

It is one of four opening across England and Wales following a pilot scheme established a few years ago.

Offenders will be dealt with by the same court officials all the way through their case, allowing them to keep track of their progress.

When the cycle of drug abuse and crime is broken..the whole community benefits
Jack Straw, Justice Secretary

Two pilot schemes were run at magistrates' courts in London and Leeds, and Mr Straw said evidence showed offenders were less likely to commit crimes again if they went through the drug courts.

Speaking about the Cardiff court, he said: "Drug-related crime can have a devastating effect on communities.

"Offenders often become caught up in a cycle of crime to fuel their habits, which in turn means their local community is blighted.

"It is vital we find new and innovative ways of tackling this - our ultimate goal is to reduce re-offending and make Cardiff a safer place to live.

Mr Straw said offenders came from "chaotic backgrounds" where stability was lacking, so continuity in the court was especially important.

"The idea is that seeing familiar faces can help build a relationship between the judge and addict, motivating offenders to salvage their life from the hold of drugs," he added.

"When the cycle of drug abuse and crime is broken, and someone changes their life for the better, the whole community benefits."

Three other drug courts have also opened in Barnsley, Salford and Bristol magistrates' courts.

The charity Crime Reduction Initiatives, which is involved in the project through its drug workers, said it would bring a "continuity of care and a consistent approach" to sentencing and review of cases.

"It is hoped that this will help build a beneficial relationship of trust between offenders and the various agencies involved in the management of their cases," said a spokeswoman.



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