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Alternative approach to dealing with drug fuelled crime works

27 November 2018 - By Nick Butcher

Over the past six years the Waitakere and Auckland District Courts have been trialling a new way of dealing with people who commit serious crimes to fuel their addiction to hard drugs.

Two pilot programmes have been running under the name of the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts.

However, being a pilot means their future is still uncertain and towards the end of January 2019, a conference that will push and promote their relevance and value is being held. There’ll be a wide range of people at the conference including local and international experts, policy makers, the judiciary and legal profession, Police, Corrections, the health and recovery communities such as alcoholics and narcotics anonymous, graduates from the court, iwi, students and various academics.

Judges Ema Aitken and Lisa Tremewan from the AODTC will run the conference in partnership with the Auckland Law School. It is being funded through a Borrin Foundation grant of 60 thousand dollars.

What is the AODTC?

It’s not the soft option but essentially the end of the road for many of the people who are in this courtroom.

Many of the people before the court have attempted to control their drug and alcohol use only to find themselves committing crimes to satisfy their addiction.

At the Waitakere District Court, the team of lawyers that act on behalf of the defendants are led by criminal barrister Bridie Murphy.

“The adversarial lawyer goes out the window. How it works is that a defendant will apply for a position on the AODTC. Lawyers will make submissions to the court as to why that person should be accepted. It’s very thorough, covering all aspects of the person’s life, recommending as to whether the person would be suitable. We then discuss the application and way forward as a team,” Mrs Murphy says.

The lawyers don’t determine the treatment pathway for their clients, but they do advocate their client’s position, dealing with issues such as bail hearings or dealing with charges they may be facing.  

The therapeutic court is similar to a United States model. The courts have been extensively evaluated overseas and are based on evidence-based best practice.

It includes restorative justice where recovering addicts are able to make amends to their victims during the course of the programme.

One of the many success stories

Sarah (not her real name) is a graduate of the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts. She is 32 years old. Her last scrape with the law was in December 2016 after about five years of criminal offending to support her drug habit of injecting one gram of meth a day into her veins combined with another drug called fantasy.

“I was a public nuisance. I burgled homes, stole cars, and committed fraud. I have 42 convictions. I never thought I had a problem with drugs. I thought everyone else was the problem. I ended up at Wiri Prison in South Auckland and for the first time I took a long and hard look at myself. It took me two months just to put a sentence together, I was so damaged by drug use,” she says.

Nothing easy about the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts

She says the AODTC was not the softer option.

“I was existing in an environment where I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do. There were rules and consequences and, other than jail, I’d never experienced consequences as a result of my behaviour.

“I was a tiny person in a huge world, sober,” she says.

She couldn’t hold down a job during this rehabilitation period which included entering a rehab facility and submitting to regular random drug and alcohol tests, attending meetings at Narcotics Anonymous, and making amends or restitution to people affected by her previous lifestyle.

But she got there, and 'graduated' which was a very significant milestone in her ongoing recovery journey.

Sarah intends to return to study with a particular focus on addiction services.

You can read the full story on the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts in December's LawTalk magazine.

Meanwhile, from 24-25 January 2019, the Aotearoa AODTC Conference 2019 is being held in Auckland. It will discuss whether the current model fulfils its therapeutic and restorative potential and how it might be further shaped going forward.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019