Rethinking Rehab: How AODT Courts are changing lives

Annaliese Johnston shares her perspective on the forum in Auckland on Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts. 

At the JustSpeak forum on drug and alcohol offending in Auckland we had the privilege of hearing from and engaging with several inspiring speakers: Judge Tremewan who is spearheading the AODT Courts programme at the Auckland and Waitakere District Courts, Matt Bird, a Treatment Advocate whose area of expertise is in long-term recovery programmes and who has done work with the New Zealand Drug Foundation, and five representatives from the Te Ara Hou Residential Alcohol and Drug Service, which offers a 12 week residential programme for men using a tikanga Maori approach to rehabilitation.

There were several significant themes that emerged from the forum:

A holistic Kaupapa: people are complex

It was clear that rehabilitation is a process of many nuances, and that the best rehabilitation programmes recognise that offenders do not operate in a vacuum. Accordingly, good and effective responses should not operate in a vacuum either; all the speakers emphasised the importance of addressing the head, heart and mind as well as physical challenges in conquering addiction and despair. They shared with us how much of their offending was the final straw in heart wrenching narratives that included abuse, addiction, neglect, gangs, poverty, and deep rooted crises of identity. The Te Whare Tapa Wha (four cornerstones of health) model acknowledges that when one of these fail, the “roof”, which is held up by the four pillars falls in:

  • taha wairua (spiritual)
  • taha tinana (physical)
  • taha hinengaro (mind and emotions)
  • taha whanau (family and community)
The Te Ara Hou testimonies also emphasised the importance of the fourth pillar, whanau, in aiding their recovery. Whether this was the birth of their first child, a plea from a partner, or the disappointment etched in the face of their mother, whanau was a key factor in their stimulus and journey to recovery. Responses that enabled them to discover, rediscover, or connect with their cultural identity as Maori was also deeply significant for some. Disconnection and a loss of their sense of self had compounded other struggles, especially coming from a history and an old generation’s attitude where being Maori was a burden rather than an important part of who they are.
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A Judge’s role in the system: common sense works

It was evident from Judge Tremewan’s experiences and the success of the Courts in the US that people respond best when they are treated as people by other people after all, rather than as problems to be removed or dealt with purely as blights on society.
Something as basic as the recognition of and respect of common humanity should not be underestimated or ignored.
Researchers found that some of the simplest things that Judges can do are the most effective; looking an offender in the eye, speaking to them for more than three minutes, and conveying honest reactions of disappointment or encouragement and pride in an offender’s rehabilitation progress.The Specialist Court model provides Judges this opportunity to build relationships with offenders who come through the Courts and to effect positive change and responsibility. Programmes and plans are long term, the Courtroom is designed to create dialogue, and the Judge is one of a bigger team that is working towards a good outcome with the offender. One of the most powerful testimonies from the US that Judge Tremewan shared summed up the positive power and responsibility that Judge’s can have: In commenting on what one of the main factors was in his rehabilitation success was, the reformed drug addict simply stated that “I didn’t want to disappoint Judge Wendy.”

Don’t underestimate education and dialogue

All the testimonies brought us all into the reality of how dark life on the “edge” of society can be. It is often difficult to discern how one can truly effect change without being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. However Judge Tremewan spoke of her knowledge and awareness of what goes on for many people in our society and what works as a burden that she has actually been “blessed” with. After attending a conference in the US she has now had the opportunity to engage with others over the issues and spearhead initiatives such as the Specialist Drug and Alcohol Courts that have been proven to actually work: recidivism rates reduced dramatically after they were introduced.She also spoke of the unexpected privilege that she has had in the form of learning Te Reo as a Pakeha woman, and that it has enriched her life in more ways that she expected. The evidence of this was apparent at the forum; Judge Tremewan was able to engage with the speakers from Te Ara Hou in a way that would not have been possible otherwise and enabled two worlds to collide and merge. It showed how small steps such as perhaps learning Te Reo, engaging with those around you on criminal justice issues and participating in discourse and discussion can effect change in more significant ways than we might expect.