The Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment program (MERIT) diverts adult defendants with drug problems from the local court into a drug treatment program. Recent studies of MERIT outcomes indicate that MERIT is a highly appropriate intervention program for Aboriginal defendants. It has improved the health of participants, including significant reduction in drug use and significant improvement in mental health. Better justice outcomes include lower rates of imprisonment and reduced rates of reoffending.
Overall, the ability to identify MERIT clients, the eligibility criteria, the location and the ability of MERIT teams to engage with Aboriginal defendants are key factors that limit MERIT’s capacity to treat Aboriginal defendants. MERIT needs to overcome these barriers. If MERIT is to be a truly mainstream program, it must adapt to meet the needs of all who should participate.