Best of slow journalism: Inside the Drug Court

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

Is the success of Serial, which we wrote about here in October, a sign that we’ve entered a golden age of non-fiction radio storytelling? There are certainly lots of great shows doing something close to Slow Journalism right now – Radiolab and This American Life stand out from the crowd – but we’ve rarely seen a radio journalism with the depth, detail and warmth of Sharon Davis’s three-part series for ABC in Australia.

In ‘Inside the Drug Court’, about a special rehabilitation programme for addicts run by the New South Wales drug courts, we get to know Dee, Jeremy and Mick extremely well. We hear about these long-term addicts’ battle with addiction and its devastating effects on their careers, their health and their family life. Over the two years Davis followed them, we get to hear some extreme highs and lows.

Davis has spent almost two decades reporting on New South Wales’ criminal justice system and she’s used to asking the tough questions: is the state’s ‘tough on crime’ approach, which involves spending over AUS$1 billion every year locking up drug offenders, actually making things better? And why are so many of those in prison indigenous Australians and those with mental illnesses?

The people who work for New South Wales’ drug courts come across well, on the whole. They seem to care and their course gets pretty good results. But it’s not available to the vast majority of addicts in New South Wales, and even for those who get the change to rehabilitate it’s extremely hard to break with the habit of a lifetime. This is compelling documentary radio and a great example of what can be achieved when a journalist works on a single story over an extended stretch of time.

Listen to Inside the Drug Court here.

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