A promising development

May 26th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Kate Chapman reports at Stuff:

Offenders with serious drug and alcohol problems could get a chance to go to rehab instead of jail if a new drug court pilot goes ahead.

The Law Commission recommended the establishment of a drug court pilot that would see sentencing delayed while offenders underwent rehabilitation and detoxification treatment.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Simon Power said the Justice Ministry was working with other government agencies, including the Health Ministry, and would report back on the cost effectiveness and funding availability for the programme.

“The Minister thinks the idea of drug courts is a really interesting idea,” he said.

If the pilot court goes ahead it is likely to be housed at the Waitakere District Court.

This is a promising development. I don’t think the status quo is working that well. Rehabilitation and treatment is preferable to criminal sanctions.

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21 Responses to “A promising development”

  1. GPT1 (2,087 comments) says:

    NZ already has a drug court – aka the criminal court. The vast majority of crime is driven by drug and alcohol issues. Having a specialist court is really just the window dressing on the issue which is funding of rehab programmes which is expensive in the first instance (although if successful a damn site cheaper in the long run). I have regularly had Judge’s lament the fact that they only option they have is (even for relatively low level offending) to send someone to prison when they would rather sentence to, for eg, home d at a residential programme.

    I would suggest that the programmes referred to in the article are the key – I particularly like the carrot and stick approach of committing to the programme or facing resentence.

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  2. David Garrett (6,309 comments) says:

    This is a commendable intitiative – but the “journalist” at Stuff has not done much research before writing her piece.

    Prior to the abrupt flaming end of my political career I was corresponding with former Judge Peggy Hora, who was instrumental in setting up Drug Courts in California 20 years ago. Before meeting and speaking with Peggy I thought – as many here will think – that compuslory drug treatment is a waste of time and wont work. Apparently not so, at least based on the Californian and (I think) Australian experience. [Come in Rex Widerstrom - your country needs you.]

    What the repeater has missed is that under the Californian model at least, offenders DO still go to prison if the offence is violent. It doesn’t matter if the offence was committed while they were off their faces or not. The difference is that in prison they receive compulsory drug treatment rather than just sitting in a cell.

    To my great surprise, the success rate is very high – from memory above 90%. A small number simply sit in the corner and refuse to “buy in” (if we must use such phraseology) and they get nothing from it.

    The only offenders who dont go to jail are those whose offences are not violent, but were committed because of drug use or abuse – I guess that means mainly property damage, low end sexual offences or burglary without a weapon. Those offenders are convicted, and “sentenced” to a drug treatement programme conducted outside prison. If they complete the programme sucessfully (again from memory) they do not have a conviction; if they drop out, they are resentenced to a custodial sentence with complusory treatment.

    The programmes are expensive – the ones outside prison not inside – but then as well all know, accomodation in NZ jails is very expensive too.

    So all in all, if its done properly this has got to be a good idea, both for the offender and society. but thats the key; it cant be a soft option under which there are no consequences if you dont bother attending the course as is the case now with “community work” or whatever the latest label is.

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  3. mistywindow (27 comments) says:

    It’s an indictment of politicians of all stripes that this hasn’t been pushed decades ago.

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  4. Chthoniid (2,027 comments) says:

    It seems to be a good attempt to breakout of the current inflexible system to addresses causes of offending. Always like it when they start with a pilot rather than wholesale changes.

    Why haven’t we tried this before?

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  5. poneke (280 comments) says:

    Hey David, neither you nor Ele have posted in defence of Paul Quinn yet.

    I thought you went to Backbenches. Were you not there last night?

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  6. nasska (10,611 comments) says:

    I’m not suggesting that rehab programmes sufficiently resourced to have a hope of succeeding are likely to come cheap. It must be pointed out, however, that neither are prisons recently costed at $250K/bed to build & $90K/bed/year to run.

    Imprisoning drug offenders doesn’t rehabilitate, probably doesn’t deter an addict & can only be useful in keeping the offender locked up & away from the public. If Mr Power can get his colleagues to come up with the necessary funding the results of the trial should be interesting.

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  7. David Garrett (6,309 comments) says:

    Nasska: quite right. apparently the in house (i.e “in the Big House” ) programmes are not very expensive – no building, food, or accomodation costs – they are already provided. I visited one running at Arohata twice. I believe their success rate is very high. The big surprise is that complusory treatment programmes actually work well.

    Does that Poneke chap not realise this thread is about drug treatment programmes?

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  8. nasska (10,611 comments) says:

    David G.

    The programmes would also be well worth trying at the level where someone qualifies or verges on qualifying for a spell inside.

    Often prison for drug crimes proves to be a finishing school for career criminals. I’d rather see my tax dollars allocated to corrections spent on locking up the hopeless cases for as long as possible. If there is an effective form of rehab this side of the big house let’s give it a go.

    I understand that “Poneke” is a gifted writer but gets confused from time to time.

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  9. GPT1 (2,087 comments) says:

    I don’t think anyone can disagree that deterrence and accountability is still needed in sentencing and I didn’t read the initiative as a free ride – I am sure I have read somewhere that some punters find it all too hard and basically opt into prison although those who do stick at it get somewhere.

    The key is in and out of prison programmes – the issue is the upfront cost.

    As an aside an absolute bucket load of property crime has drugs as a driver. burglary is simply how the habit is paid for. I have seen both sides – the prison merry-go round (out with, sometimes, good intentions, then a hit, a burg, usually inept, and back in the bin for another stint) and the “cycle breaker” of a recidivist addressing the drug habit and, surprise surprise, not breaking into people’s houses.

    I would suggest that the ‘avoid conviction’ type programme would be an early intervention for comparatively low level matters. Incentive based one might say.

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  10. s.russell (1,559 comments) says:

    Good. As long as this is not an alternative to accountability. If it is seen as an add-on to sentencing for the puropose of preventing future offending that’s great, and worth spending a good bit on. It could end up saving the country a lot.

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  11. David Garrett (6,309 comments) says:

    Nasska: Sorry, you missed my point. The California initiative indeed covers those who would not qualify for a stint inside. See my first post. GPT1 describes the type of offender quite well. the dividing line (Big House treatment or community based treatment) is whether there was violence in the offending.

    The point is that such a person ( a drug addled burglar) would normally get given a fine he can’t or won’t pay, or a sentence of “community work” or perhaps the ulitmate stupidity, Home D, where he can sit at home watching DVD’s stoned all day.

    Under the proposed model that guy would be sent to a compulsory drug treatment programme outside prison (expensive but not as expensive as prison) and if he didnt complete it, then its not community work or Home D but the Big House.

    I believe that Poneke chap is very well known (he once waspishly told me “everyone knows who I am but you, Garrett”) which rather begs the question, why use a pseudonym?

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  12. thewayiseeit (6 comments) says:

    Who give’s a fuck! As long as i get to keep MORE of MY MONEY in MY pocket!

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  13. F E Smith (3,301 comments) says:

    I only saw this just now, so won’t say much other than to agree generally with both GPT and David Garrett (which is probably not surprising, seeing we have the same basic background in the law).

    Actually, as an aside on that last aside, why is it that those people who have day to day and year to year experience of working with criminals (i.e. defence lawyers) are so rarely consulted on these things? Anyway, I digress..

    GPT said “As an aside an absolute bucket load of property crime has drugs as a driver. burglary is simply how the habit is paid for. I have seen both sides – the prison merry-go round (out with, sometimes, good intentions, then a hit, a burg, usually inept, and back in the bin for another stint) and the “cycle breaker” of a recidivist addressing the drug habit and, surprise surprise, not breaking into people’s houses.”

    Agree completely. The only real problem with mandatory rehab is that the addict has to want to change for it to be effective. Otherwise the person dries out temporarily and then goes straight back once they are free of the constraint.

    Still, I remain an advocate for rehab ahead of imprisonment. Except for people caught with even very small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use or anybody caught with drugs for supply/sale. Then I am all for imprisonment. I know I am in the minority there, but I would happily have a social user imprisoned. Hit the end user and make flouting of the law by the general public unattractive.

    But I am happy to be a heretic in that area. On the rehab issue, I go with GPT and David.

    EDIT: Now I think of it, the legal aid ‘reforms’, in taking away counsel of choice for most of the offences caused by drug use, will mean we no longer have the chance to build a professional relationship with our clients, so I suppose our knowledge will be lessening now over time! Thanks, Simon.

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  14. tristanb (1,133 comments) says:

    Who give’s a fuck! As long as i get to keep MORE of MY MONEY in MY pocket!

    You will if some lousy P-smoking loser tries to rob your house because he’s not locked up.

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  15. kiwi in america (2,431 comments) says:

    Having run/funded charitable trusts in NZ working in the field of adolescent drug abuse, I looked closely at the drug court model and David Garrett is right, they are mostly extremely successful. Adolescent drug courts show on average an 85% success rate. I helped a number of NZ High Schools impliment a 3 strikes diversion programme that put kids caught with drugs into a random testing and counselling (or treatment if more serious) regime and they stayed at school versus the Cambridge High hard line expulsion/exclusion model. In Whangarei, a tough high drug using area, the strike rate was 80% after 1 year in the programme – that is 80% were drug free 1 year later.

    It does cost more at the front end but the savings to society of getting especially young offenders off drugs are huge.

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  16. kiwi in america (2,431 comments) says:

    F E Smith
    Drug courts work because almost all users would rather stay out of jail. Don’t forget part of the regime is random testing – you test positive, you go to jail and THAT works. Just rehab by itself has a far lower chance of success for the reasons you cited.

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  17. F E Smith (3,301 comments) says:

    “Drug courts work because almost all users would rather stay out of jail.”

    I know that only too well. They will say almost anything to get out of going away, regardless of what they have done. Part of being a defence lawyer is having to put up with that sort of behaviour. However, the other part of my point remains that, unless the offender want to actually be free of the addiction, a spell in a rehab programme isn’t going to have as high a rate of success. I have had clients go inside, stay clean for 12 or 18 months and then come out and go straight back to the drugs. I find it personally distressing when that happens, especially if they are youngsters. But if they don’t want to undertake rehab, or to take it and not really want to succeed, then I see no reason why prison is not appropriate.

    EDIT: I don’t see the need for a specific drug court, however. As GPT said, we already have them. Just put the rehab side of things in place and we can go from there.

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  18. F E Smith (3,301 comments) says:

    Oh, and can we apply it to drink drivers as well?

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  19. immigant (950 comments) says:

    This whole idea is a colosal waste of time and money. My old man has been through 2-3 detox programmes and he says 90% of the people who are sent to these detoxes through family courts or as part of government assigned programmes, just sit there for the alloted time and talk all day about how wasted they will get once they get out. Waste of taxpayer money. He was in the Sally Army one in Auckland and that was supposed to be a very succesful one.

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  20. ephemera (563 comments) says:

    @Poneke

    There’s little point in expecting anyone in the National Party to defend Paul Quinn. He’s persona non grata now.

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  21. kiwi in america (2,431 comments) says:

    immigrant
    Had a consequence of falling off the wagon been going to jail, I have no doubt your father would’ve been more motivated to engage in his therapy.

    Sweden is a stunning example of the success of ‘coercive care’ when it comes to drug abuse. Once the darling of the drug liberalisers in the 60′s and 70′s with very permissive laws and enforcement of the laws and consequently rampant use particularly of recreational drugs, Sweden’s combination smart drug laws that use state coercion offering treatment or prison alongside effective education programmes for youth AND a comprehensive interagency approach to emerging drug experimentation without all the paralysis and paranoia about privacy that has infested NZ agencies, Swedish drug use (especially by the vulnerable 15 – 25 year old age chort) has plummetted to the lowest in the western world.

    These tactics can and do work – they aren’t cheap but they are effective.

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