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The Right Track

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A driving programme changing lives with an 80% success rate

Over a decade ago, a former school teacher, John Finch, started a programme in Auckland designed to address driving offences committed by young people and recidivist drink drivers in a rehabilitative way.

The Right Track has, as its name suggests, put the lives of many people who may have otherwise been jailed back on track.

Before the programme came into action, Mr Finch had already been involved with a private training establishment that focused on educating youth who had experienced social problems.

Many of these young people had also come to the attention of the police, including for drink driving offences, and officers were interested in what Mr Finch could do further to curtail some of the carnage that was occurring on the roads.

After about a year of international research, Mr Finch concluded that many programmes that supposedly rehabilitated drivers were just money-making ventures, as recidivism was far too common. They simply were not having much effect.

Mr Finch, who is the director of the EDUK8 Trust that runs The Right Track programme, says it has an 80% success rate in preventing those people on the course from reoffending. Judge Phil Recordon is the chair of the EDUK8 Trust.

What’s different about The Right Track…?

The difference to most programmes is that instead of bombarding people with gory videos and similar shock horror tactics, Mr Finch says his course took an educational and team focus.

There is a catch though in that people only get one chance, so if they reoffend they can’t go on the programme a second time.

Some of the people – most of whom are under the age of 25 – who have undertaken the programme have been involved in incidents that have caused road deaths. Drink-driving, texting and crossing centre lines and driving head-on into an oncoming vehicle and street racing were some of the causes of these deaths.

“Some of these young people have just made bad decisions. They’re not bad people but they’ve made horrendous mistakes that they’ll have to live with for the rest of their lives,” John Finch says.

The Right Track also targets adults and people who are deemed recidivist offenders. Each person who takes part in the 42-hour programme, which lasts between five and eight weeks, is expected to be accompanied by a whānau support person.

There are nine sessions which are held on midweek evenings and all day Saturday. The sessions are holistic in the sense that they utilise cognitive learning therapy that Mr Finch says creates a realisation of the effects that a person’s driving behaviour has initiated. It’s about understanding the impact of their driving decisions.

But how can something that appears so simple be having such an impact?

As Mr Finch explains, it’s the practical aspects from the people who speak about the stark realities of bad decisions that helps create a change of psyche.

“They listen to volunteer firefighters speak about their experience with road accidents. They listen to the mothers of victims. There are sessions on brain injuries, they hear from the police’s serious crash unit, they visit spinal wards and meet people who are paralysed as a result of driving offences and also meet the medical staff who deal with these injured people,” he says.

There are also visits to the court, including the cells, viewing a police van, along with observing an actual court sentencing.

“They participate in a sentencing re-enactment with a real judge, lawyers, court staff, and a police prosecutor,” Mr Finch says.

Interestingly, Mr Finch says the large number of people who come through the programme are surprised by what they find out about themselves.

“A common situation is that many participants say they had no idea how working in a team environment would help because many of these people admitted that they’d never really been in a team. At the start they tend to view the police as not wanting to help them but out to get them. They actually get to know the police, share coffee with them and build a connection. There’s a massive mind shift in relation to attitudes towards the police,” he says.

The Judge behind the programme

Judge Phil Recordon has been the chair of the EDUK8 Trust since it was formed.

“This programme works because it is well planned, thorough, interesting and educational, and I’m not the only judge who thinks this,” he says.

Judge Recordon says often in his role he’ll see someone at the beginning of the process before the court, and then at the end.

“Some of the participants at the start are a little blasé about things, even when they’re shown the cells, but when they reach the end of the programme, they’re so different. The attitude change is incredible. They don’t want to reoffend as they realise it is not something to be proud of. It’s an interesting dynamic to witness,” he says.

Usually it is through a combination of the family group conference and lawyer representing a person that results in them being admitted to the programme.

“Some people are motivated by their sentence being, perhaps, more lenient if they accept entering the Right Track programme and go through the motions, but that’s generally a temporary thought process, and they change their outlook. If we start off with 16 people, usually around 14 of them will make it through successfully. It takes a lot of commitment but it works,” he says.

Personal interest

Judge Recordon has a vested personal interest in the programme and a lot of empathy for what people undertaking the course are going through.

“Something I do share with groups is that as a young man I made a number of driving decisions I now shudder about and regret. Within an Auckland much smaller in area and numbers than today (1960s to the 1980s), there were three pretty separate police groups. The regular police force with their focus on crime other than traffic; The Ministry of Transport which was nationwide.

“There was also the Auckland City Council Traffic Department. The latter two enlisted the ‘traffic cops’ whose sole and daily job was traffic law enforcement. Chances were in those days that runners of red lights, dangerous drivers or speeding drivers would sooner, rather than later, be spotted, stopped, spoken to, warned, and fairly often, prosecuted. We learnt from being nabbed early, and then jumped on firmly,” he says.

As Judge Recordon says, the motor vehicle can quickly become the ultimate weapon.

“So if we can save someone from behaving badly with a car, whether it’s by drinking or driving too fast, we’ve done our job,” he says.

Barrister Marama Mariu is one of several lawyers involved in the programme and endorses it wholly.

“I have seen the positive impact the participants have had by attending Te Ara Tutuki Pai (The Right Track). The programme helps broaden their minds to realise how much their actions impact their whānau and wider community. This realisation then opens the door for genuine and positive changes for their future,” she says.

And Steve Bonnar QC, who has supported a young driver through the programme, also vouches for the good work it is doing.

“It’s a superb programme which delivers excellent results. The amount of work and resources which go in to the programme, including the volunteered time of many people, such as judges, lawyers, medical professionals, first responders and others, is truly impressive. The results, in terms of the extremely low recidivism rates for those who complete the programme, speak for themselves,” he says.

The Right Track progamme is run through several court jurisdictions including Waitakere, Auckland, North Shore, Manukau, Hamilton and Christchurch and Southland District Courts.

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