First Step Legal - a unique health justice partnership

First Step Legal - a unique health justice partnership

Health Justice Partnerships are arrangements between a health organisation (eg. The Royal Women's Hospital) and a legal service (eg.  Inner Melbourne Community Legal Centre) to work collaboratively with clients/patients (eg. to secure an intervention order for a vulnerable woman).  It is a very diverse field, there can be all different kinds of arrangements, but great work is being done in this manner and the potential is infinite.

The work of First Step Legal, a program at First Step, is different to the typical model in many ways. It's gritty stuff; mostly criminal law stemming from addiction related crime. First Step clients are, in the main, a complex and sometimes maligned group (as a society we seem to have enormous compassion for children who have suffered sexual abuse and other horrors, but very little left for exactly those same individuals when they grow up and struggle to cope). In the main the severity of the offending reflects the severity of the addiction which reflects the severity of the early life circumstances of our patients who have a criminal history. Early school leaving, out of home care, inter-generational poverty, homelessness, family violence, sexual abuse and other traumatic circumstance litter the personal histories of our clients. But regardless of perceived reasons/excuses for addiction and addiction related crime, First Step's first principal is that EVERYone deserves EVERY chance to turn their lives around.

Many First Step clients, due to their complexity (such as traumatic upbringings) have the potential to 'pass that trauma on' to society in the form of a) social disruption from crime and other antisocial behaviours, and also b) the enormous financial costs of the criminal justice system (esp. incarceration).

Specialised medical, allied health and legal assistance, especially in integrated, co-located collaboration like at First Step, is the way to end the cycle of recidivism and relapse. We have years of date that support this, but the argument stacks up on a logical level also.  Savings from reduced crime, reduce incarceration, reduced court costs and other costs to society from people unable to overcome substance dependence could pay for health justice partnerships 100 times over.  And who doesn't want happier, healthier people and communities?

Keep watching this space, and also go to Health Justice Australia if you would like to learn more about health justice partnerships generally.

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