Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court

Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua

The adult Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court was established in 2012 to pilot an innovative approach to offending which is fuelled by alcohol and other drug addiction.

The court is solutions focused and aims to “break the cycle” by treating the causes of offending.

It targets offenders who would otherwise be imprisoned, but whose offending is being fuelled by their unresolved “high-needs” issues of addiction or dependency. They are also assessed as being “high-risk” in terms of their non-compliance: in other words, past sentences and court orders made have not changed their situation. Consequently, they are on a treadmill of offending, typically being punished but then going on to reoffend.

As an alternative to prison, the court applies evidence-based best practices in a potentially transformative programme of case management, treatment, drug testing, monitoring and mentoring.

Sentencing is deferred while participants go through the rigorous programme, which includes regular court appearances to check on progress, and may take one to two years to complete.

Judge Lisa Tremewan at Waitākere District Court, and Judge Ema Aitken at Auckland District Court, lead the pilot.

Court professionals — police, lawyers and case managers — work as a team to aid judicial decision-making, in a non-adversarial way.

The New Zealand model includes the role of Pou Oranga, a position held by a person with a lived experience of recovery, treatment and knowledge of te reo Māori and tikanga. Mentors and community treatment services also help hold offenders to account while walking alongside them.

Each of the two courts is capped at 50 participants. Those who emerge successfully from the programme “graduate” to a community-based and monitored sentence. They are expected to be working to support themselves, or studying.

As at May 2018, more than 150 participants had graduated. Not only had these graduates completed their comprehensive individualised treatment plans, but they also contributed about 30,000 hours in voluntary community work as a way of giving back to the community — around 200 hours per graduate.

Those who are exited from the court prior to graduation are returned to the usual court process for sentencing where they will still receive credit for any meaningful progress made.

The pilot aims to:

  • reduce reoffending and the use of imprisonment
  • reduce alcohol and other drug consumption and dependency
  • positively impact on health and wellbeing
  • and be cost effective.

Independent evaluation of limited scope has shown encouraging signs in terms of reduced reoffending. A more comprehensive evaluation is currently underway, however the Final Process Evaluation in August 2016 noted:

“The consensus for stakeholders, participants and whānau is that the AODT Court is resulting in transformational change for graduated participants and whānau. The AODT Court is seen as giving offenders the opportunity and tools to change their lives.”

Evidence from similar courts overseas has clearly demonstrated that there is a significant reduction in reoffending, both in terms of the rates of reoffending and seriousness of it, where such a court applies evidence-based best practice, as occurs in the New Zealand pilot.

There are demonstrated benefits using other measures too. For instance, contact with police drops dramatically for many AODT court participants as their lifestyles improve.

In mid-2017 the Cabinet of the National-led government agreed to fund a three-year extension of the pilot.

In late 2017, the newly elected Labour-NZ First coalition indicated it would roll out a specialised drug and alcohol court in 2018.