Release date: 2 September, 2009
Research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has shown that the Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment (MERIT) program reduces the risk of reconviction for a further offence. MERIT provides defendants in NSW Local Courts with the option of undertaking formal drug treatment while on bail.
To evaluate the program, the Bureau compared the proportion reconvicted amongst a cohort of 2,396 defendants who participated in the MERIT program with a comparison group of 23,960 defendants who did not participate in the MERIT program but who met the program eligibility criteria.
Separate analyses were also conducted for people who were accepted onto the program regardless of whether they completed it (intention-to-treat analysis) and for those who completed the program (as-treated analysis).
The Bureau examined the effect of MERIT on three outcomes: reconviction for any offence, reconviction for a theft offence and reconviction for a drug offence.
In the intention-to-treat analyses, no overall difference in the proportion reconvicted was observed between MERIT and the comparison group but the proportion reconvicted for a theft offence was found to be four percentage points lower in the MERIT group than in the comparison group.
In the as-treated analyses, completion of the MERIT program was found to reduce the proportion reconvicted for any offence by 12 percentage points and the proportion reconvicted for a theft re-offence by four percentage points.
Although the program had no measurable effect on the proportion reconvicted for a drug offence, the report notes that this may be because convictions for drug offences are much less common than convictions for theft offences. Changes in the proportion reconvicted for drug offences are therefore harder to detect.
Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau said that the effect of the MERIT program on re-offending is probably larger than the Bureau's findings suggest.
"Our measure of re-offending - proportion reconvicted - is a blunt instrument. Past research has shown that modest reductions in reconviction generally signal quite large reductions in rates of re-offending".
"The success of the MERIT program underscores the value of programs that address the underlying causes of involvement in crime".
Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408