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Help for offenders

A national listing of support services and programs to help offenders can be found here: 

People who are in trouble with the law (offenders) often have an alcohol or drug problem. Helping offenders to stop their alcohol and other drug use or addiction can make a big difference in helping them to stay out of trouble. There are programs available to help prevent re-offending as well as services that support offenders while they are in prison and after release from prison. 

Court diversion programs

Court diversion programs give offenders the opportunity to move out of the criminal justice system into treatment programs to address their alcohol or drug related issues. These can include police-issued diversion programs, conditional bail and court ordered programs to encourage the offender to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour, such as alcohol or other drug use.

Many diversion programs are available only for less serious offences (e.g. shoplifting). The types of programs offered are different in each state or territory. Contact the office of your local legal service (or your Department of Justice or Attorney-General) to check what options are available in your area and which offences are eligible.

Examples of court diversion programs include:

New South Wales

Court referral of eligible defendants into treatment (CREDIT) program
Magistrates' early referral into treatment (MERIT)


First offender's court intervention service (FOCiS)
Court referral and evaluation for drug intervention and treatment (CREDIT) and bail support (CBS) program


Illicit drugs court diversion program 
Drug court program

South Australia

Kumangka Drug and alcohol diversion service

Western Australia

Drug courts
Indigenous diversion program


Illicit drug diversionary initiative (IDDI)

Click here for a complete Knowledge Centre listing of Alcohol and drug programs for offenders.

Entering Prison

When a person with alcohol or other drug problems goes to prison it can be a chance for them to try to stop using. However, it can also be a difficult time because they may have health issues and many other concerns. It can be difficult to find out what help is available and how to access it.

General advice for people entering prison with alcohol and other drug issues

General advice for people entering prison with a mental illness

The health care of a person in prison is the responsibility of the state or territory the prison is in. Australia uses national and international guidelines for delivery of health services.

These guidelines state that:

This can be helpful to know when speaking up for a family member or someone you are concerned about in prison.

Transition back to the community – leaving prison

Organisations such as No Bars and Community Restorative Centre (CRC) provide a range of services for people and their families who come into contact with the justice system. They can help with alcohol and other drug dependence as well as other issues. For people who are leaving prison, it is important they receive support to:

If the offender can get themselves free from alcohol and other drugs, they may have a better opportunity to address other health issues, such as hepatitis C or mental health issues which may have previously been ignored. Some services such as the Aboriginal health community re-entry program (WA) link people to health services before and after their release from prison. For people with complex needs, programs such as CRC’s Transitional alcohol and other drugs project assist people to move from prison back into the community by identifying each person’s needs and creating ongoing support.

Other services such as Forensic drug treatment (previously called COATS) provide specialist alcohol and other drugs assessment and treatment for clients in prison as part of their parole, and make sure the person is connected into a wide range of services and supports when they leave prison.

Many people will not have access to transitional programs to prepare them for release into the community. The risk for drug overdose and suicide are high among people who are leaving prison.

Information about leaving prison

When a release from prison is planned, a person will usually be given a summary letter about their general health and will be prescribed medication (if needed). If they need treatment it is important they see a relevant doctor as soon as possible after release.

People are at high risk of harm when they first leave prison

  • The first 72 hours after leaving prison is the danger time for overdose. People often don't realise how their tolerance has dropped so they can fatally overdose on amounts they previously would have been able to handle.
  • The first two weeks after leaving prison is the critical period for relapsing into alcohol and other drug use. This can quickly lead to reoffending (e.g. theft, arrest for drunken behaviour) and a return to the criminal justice system.
  • The first three months after leaving prison are critical for making the transition back into the community. During this time it is important the ex-prisoner can find safe accommodation as this provides a base from which they can get work, start to deal with their alcohol and other drug issues and reconnect with society. For some ex-prisoners, the transition back to society is even harder than serving time in prison.

People leaving prison can be supported by helping them to:

For more information about programs that assist offenders after release from prison click on the link below:

Offender health – post-release interventions


Each state or territory has organisations that support offenders. Some of these are:


Prison Fellowship Australia

Australian Capital Territory

Aboriginal Justice Centre

New South Wales

Community Restorative Centre (CRC)
Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT)


Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (VACRO)
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

Western Australia

Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA)


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service
Sisters Inside

South Australia

Aboriginal Prisoners and Offenders Support Service (APOSS)
Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM)

Northern Territory

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)

For a complete list of health services and helpful organisations for offenders click on the links below:

For AOD specific list of programs for offenders see:


Information on this page was taken from:

Adamson D, Andersen K, Black K, Elliot E, Harwood A, Heffernan E, Hill S, Minnis J, Whitton G (2012) Special situations, settings and groups. In: Lee K, Freeburn B, Ella S, Miller W, Perry J, Conigrave K, eds. Handbook for Aboriginal alcohol and drug work. Sydney: University of Sydney:343-404

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014) Prisoner health services in Australia 2012. (AIHW Catalogue no AUS 183, bulletin no 123) Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

No Bars (2011) Early action is critical Retrieved 2015 from

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Last updated: 22 September 2016
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Australia's National Research Centre on AOD Workforce Development National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre National Drug Research Institute