(EMAILWIRE.COM, November 18, 2012 ) Los Angeles, CA -- Criminals with drug and alcohol dependency issues may soon enter rehab instead of prison.
Following a week-long trip to observe United States drug courts in session, New Zealand Justice Minister Judith Collins plans to cut the ribbon on a five-year Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts pilot program.
As a result, two courts, to be presided over by District Court judges Lisa Tremewan and Ema Aitken, will deal with offenders with severe drug and alcohol addiction.
Under the new system of justice, defendants will forego prison for intensive rehab, after which they will become graduates of the programme. The participants, all of whom will be low-level offenders, will be routinely tested and appear regularly before the judge to participate in progress reports.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama supports the programme, calling it a third way to address the nations substance abuse problem.
Collins says after her experience sitting in on drug court hearings in San Francisco and New York, the option is not a soft one for criminals. "I could see that those before the courts had clearly changed their behaviours and their enthusiasm, she said. But they are very realistic about what can be achieved. My view has always been that if you can prevent crime it is the best thing you can do. All but one were really engaged, and there is a lot of positive reinforcement, and a lot of carrot and stick being used."
The New Zealand pilot program is projected to deal with roughly 100 offenders annually. It is expected to reduce recidivism rates by nearly 8%, thought the date for the change was not made clear. Still, "I'd like to hope we can do better," Collins said.
Collins said that if the pilot works as hoped, the program could serve the nation in more significant ways. "If this works really well in New Zealand, which I hope it will, we may wish to mainstream it more into the way in which we deal with some offenders.
"But we have to wait and see how it goes first. There is a lot of trial and error," she said.
While in the U.S., Collins visited the Red Hook community justice centre in New York where "neighbourhood" problems were dealt with in one venue. At the centre, hearings that would normally be conducted at various courts, including civil, family, and criminal, were handled by one judge.
Collins said she is speaking with Counties Manukau police about borrowing the model to deal with domestic violence at home.
" , she said. The reality is you are going to get some people who will relapse off their programmes, but that's not necessarily fatal to the programme."