|Partner/s||Maryborough District Health Service|
|Current Funders||Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety and the Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria|
In 2018, Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre (LCCLC) formed the Maryborough Therapeutic Justice Partnership (MTJP) with Maryborough District Health Service. The MTJP is an integrated services partnership that expands on the traditional health justice model by placing a social worker in a justice setting, working alongside one of our lawyers at Maryborough Magistrates Court (MMC). The partnership also involves the co-location of a lawyer with the community services team at MDHS.
Prior to the MTJP, access to therapeutic services for family violence perpetrators and people in contact with the criminal justice system was limited in Maryborough. With no Court Integrated Services Programs (CISP) or specialist courts in the town, people with criminal matters frequently struggled to access the programs and services they needed to address the issues contributing to their offending behavior, including drug and alcohol use, mental health and homelessness. This made it difficult for clients to adhere to their court orders and increased their risk of re-offending, with flow on implications for community safety, particularly for women and children at risk of family violence.
The MTJP was formed to fill this gap by providing an integrated legal and health service to
clients with criminal law matters at Maryborough Magistrates Court. A social worker from MDHS and a lawyer from LCCLC work together to identify and support clients with complex needs, helping them to connect and engage successfully with support services at MDHS and elsewhere in the local community, including medical services, counselling, family violence programs, housing services, drug and alcohol programs, and behavior change programs. This integrated and therapeutic approach acknowledges that criminal law issues do not occur in isolation, and are often the result of other health and social issues experienced by clients with multiple and complex needs. The MTJP helps these clients to connect with appropriate local supports so that they can address their behavior, adhere to their court orders, and achieve more sustainable justice and wellbeing outcomes.
The MTJP builds on lessons learned from the successful Therapeutic Justice Project implemented by Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre and Primary Care Connect in Shepparton from 2016-2018.
Since late 2018 we have provided 62 legal assistance services to 52 clients with complex health needs and criminal law matters through our integrated services partnership with Maryborough District Health Service.
While still in its early stages, the MTJP is acting as a critical circuit-breaker for clients, helping to change the trajectory of those at risk of offending and criminalisation. The MTJP is filling a significant service gap in Maryborough, where specialist and therapeutic court services do not extend. It is providing critical support to divert vulnerable clients away from the justice system by strengthening their connections to local services and community supports.
Being embedded within MDHS has enabled the MTJP to more easily connect clients in with a range of local services to best meet their needs. Through this integrated practice, the MTJP lawyer is better able to understand the underlying health and social needs of the client, and to keep updated on their progress. In turn, the MTJP social worker is learning which supports should be prioritised based on the client’s legal needs as well as their health concerns. This is enabling more effective advocacy at court for justice outcomes that enable clients to address the underlying health and social issues contributing to their offending behaviour.
“I first became aware of the MTJP earlier this year when a young man with multiple needs, who was self-represented, whom I had been managing in Bendigo and had hoped to refer to the CISP program moved to the Maryborough region. He was in dire need of assistance in respect of his legal, mental health, housing and drug issues…I was discussing all of the issues with him in court – as his unsuccessful attempts to refer himself to services in the region when [the MTJP Lawyer] stepped in and asked whether he could perhaps assist and explained the purposes and scope of the MTJP. I deferred sentencing in the matter to allow the young man to take part in the MTJP…and ultimately ended up sentencing him to an adjourned undertaking due to the significant stabilisation in his circumstances which occurred in that time; and his commitment to and progress with counselling which had been facilitated for him through the program. I view this as a significant success for the program, the young man in question and the court and community.” – Quote from local Magistrate