Williams on alcohol courts

May 5th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

wrote in the HoS:

Few politicians leave behind anything much of value. Former Justice Minister Simon Power is an exception.

I witnessed his legacy in action when I spent a riveting day at the Waitakere Alcohol and Other Drugs Treatment Court. …

Alcohol and drug courts offer an alternative to jail, but it’s not a soft option, as I quickly discovered.

The 15 defendants I saw were evenly split between chronic repeat drunk drivers and serious general offenders.

For nearly all of them the problem was the booze, though addiction to methamphetamine and other drugs also featured.

To avoid a jail sentence, they must commit to sobriety, which is monitored via high-tech anklets called Scrams, attend AA or Narcotics Anonymous meetings and go into rehab.

Community service is also expected. Police statistics tell us that more than 80 per cent of crime occurs when the offender is under the influence of alcohol or a drug, so the payback for a success in the court programme isn’t just fewer prisoners, it’s less crime and fewer victims. Each case was carefully evaluated, as were the “carrots and sticks” used to encourage compliance and discourage drifting off the path of recovery.

As the morning progressed, I formed a mental picture of the procession of undesirables and misfits I was to confront after lunch. I could not have been further from the truth.

Apart from the fact that, on the day I visited, all were men they could have been any random group of Kiwis. Each stated how many “clean” days they’d managed, ranging from a new entrant at 13 days sober to a veteran with nearly 18 months under his belt.

All had happier, worthier lives and they said so.

The court’s objectives of reducing reoffending, reducing alcohol and other drug use and dependency, reducing the use of imprisonment and positively impacting on defendant’s health and wellbeing are very clearly being achieved.

As for cost-effectiveness, that’s easy. As all these offenders would otherwise be headed for prison, I multiplied their sober days by the cost of jail. I quickly got to more than $1 million in savings.

I saw only a small sample of the court’s clients, and that’s not even counting the wider cost benefits.

This is an experiment that deserves repetition.

Does sound worthwhile indeed.

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8 Responses to “Williams on alcohol courts”

  1. gump (1,647 comments) says:

    I’m pleased to see some recognition that alcohol abuse is at the heart of most offending.

    It’s a costly and destructive drug.

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  2. JMS (330 comments) says:

    Few politicians leave behind anything much of value. Former Justice Minister Simon Power is an exception.

    If this is of any value, and it seems like it is, it will be pretty much the only thing of value he left behind.

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  3. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    JMS. Not true. Legal shit heads didn’t like him because he was cutting their bank accounts.
    Just several weeks ago I had a longtime policeman extolling the changes that were coming through in the last month or so. Changes that Simon Power initiated. He was very enthusiastic about them.

    Should have been the next PM or Deputy. Great loss to NZ politics. Very impressive young man to talk with.

    and I have talked to more than a few.

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  4. JMS (330 comments) says:

    Viking2,

    I sometimes find WhaleOil a little OTT, but on the subject of Simon Power, Cam is dead right for so many reasons.

    I’m very glad Power’s gone, the National Party is far better off without him.

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  5. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    Does sound worthwhile indeed.

    More or less worthwhile than a blanket policy that would send all third time burglars to jail for 3 years, irrespective of any drug or alciohol problems that they may have? Or a policy that would automatically put all fourth or fifth time drink drivers in jail for steadily increasing periods?

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  6. Liam Hehir (125 comments) says:

    What an odd comment to make, Professor Geddis.

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  7. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    Not really, Liam. These are “hardline” law and order policies that DPF has supported in the past that are contrary to the operation of the Drug and Alcohol Court that DPF is now saying sounds “worthwhile”. The ACT Party “3 burglaries and you’re in” policy expressly says it will apply to offenders who commit offences to feed their habits. The mandatory jail for multiple drink-drives one by definition applies only to people with an alcohol abuse problem.

    So I’m just a bit confused as to which path DPF wants to go down with regards offenders suffering from substance dependence – the “lock ‘em up to teach ‘em a lesson” one, or the “solve their dependence issue to stop their crimes” one. That’s all.

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  8. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    AG. Lots of people have trouble actually identifying the correct problem. If you don’t you are treating either the symptoms or the end results and not applying a cure.

    Not dissimilar to what happened to all the Nat. voter.

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