The Executive Director of Dapaanz (Addiction Practitioners’ Association Aotearoa New Zealand), Sue Paton says the announcement that Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment court would become permanent immediately, following successful pilots in Auckland and Waitakere, is a welcome and sensible move.
According to a 1999 Department of Corrections report 70% of the nearly 9000 people in prison in New Zealand prisoners had substance issues. The Howard League says this figure is closer to 90%.
The announcement was made by the Justice Minister, Andrew Little, yesterday following the release of two reports - Turuki! Turuki! from Te Uepū Hāpai I te Ora, and Te Tangi o te Manawanui: Recommendations for Reform from the Chief Victims Advisor.
“We totally support Minister Little making these initial steps towards breaking the cycle of offending and reforming the criminal justice system. The roll out of drug courts and a commitment to working with Māori on decision-making to improve outcomes across the justice system are especially heartening. It’s vital that the Government working more closely with Māori if we are going to tackle the vastly disproportionate numbers of Maori in in the criminal justice system.”
Māori make up 50 per cent of New Zealand's prison population, despite being only 15 per cent of the general population.
However, Ms Paton is warning that treatment options for people affected by addiction must be adequately resourced and access to trained professionals and peer support workers must be immediate if the benefits are to be fully realised.
“People in the community are already waiting between two and six months to get into residential addiction services. The government has to do something about eliminating the waiting time for everyone who seeks help including those who are in the justice system.”
Ms Paton says the two reports released yesterday were sensible and clearly show that current punitive approach was expensive, inefficient and unsustainable.
“It costs $91k pa to keep just one person in prison. Its ridiculously expensive and the social cost to family and society is huge. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We see effective reforms in other countries. The Netherlands, for example, closing prisons hand over foot. They’ve made treatment much more available, improved prison conditions so people are treated with dignity and use sanctions other than incarceration,” she says.
Incarceration rates in the Netherlands have halved in the last decade. This is attributed to relaxed drug laws, a focus on rehabilitation and an electronic ankle monitor system.