Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court

© Radio New Zealand.


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. Judge David Sharp, Judge Emma Parsons and Judge Dianne Partridge also sit regularly in the courts.

Court professionals — police, lawyers and case managers — work as a team to aid judicial decision-making, in a non-adversarial way. The police role is largely focused on community safety.

The New Zealand model includes the role of Pou Oranga, a position held by a person with a lived experience of recovery, treatment and sound knowledge of te reo Māori and tikanga. Peer support workers who also have a lived experience of recovery mentor participants while they are in the court, and community treatment services provide a range of treatment options all contributing to the work of the court in holding participants accountable for their offending by requiring them to address its underlying causes.

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 where the judges continue to oversee expected progress following graduation from the court. They are generally expected to be working or studying by the time they graduate, with many graduates studying to take up positions as peer support workers or treatment practitioners in the recovery sector.

As at December 2019, more than 200 participants have graduated. Not only have these graduates completed their comprehensive and intensive individualised treatment plans, but they also contributed more than 38,000 hours in voluntary community work as a way of giving back to the community — around 185 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.

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. The courts also witness a “ripple effect” of recovery as participants’ progress impacts positively on relationships with those around them, especially family members.

In December 2019, the Government announced the two pilot courts were now permanent, and that a third court would open in Waikato in 2020.