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Drug Court Real Or Illusory?

"We must hope for the best but fear the worst from the pilot drug court announced for Christchurch," ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said.

"If it actually deters drug abuse and the associated crime we will all applaud. But realism suggests that the announcement is mostly spin. It is the opening round in a stream we can expect over the next week. They are designed to camouflage the complete failure of our youth justice system over the past decade.

"Violent youth offending has doubled, while the numbers and proportions of young people given custodial sentences has more than halved.

"I might be less cynical about this if the government had not rejected ACT amendments to the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill designed to give the courts more power to deal with drug and alcohol abuse. They rejected amendments to allow judges to order drug testing, to stipulate maximum blood alcohol limits for offenders under supervision, to extend non-association orders as part of supervision, and generally to tailor sentences to address drug and alcohol abuse offending.

"The Minister's hopes rely on co-operation from representatives of five different Departments. Mantras like "holistic" in the Minister's statement are a clear indication that little should be expected. Nonsense detectors give the alarm when there is a stream of words like `co-operative and integrated approach', `intensive monitoring' `holistic approach', `effective co-ordination' and so on.

"I am surprised they managed to avoid yet another reference to counselling.

"The youth justice system has been a `punch `n grow' nursery bed for entry level offenders on their way to the revolving door of adult prison with its early release, early reoffending and routine re-imprisonment. Softening up on drugs without changing the law is more of the same pattern.

"Setting up a separate drug court is the first stage of saying drug offences are not really offences. If that's the case the government is pre-empting its own select committee enquiry and trying to decriminalise without dealing with the issues of decriminalisation.

"Of course we can't really judge this proposal because the Government has withheld the Youth Crime Task Force Report. It was near completion late last year but has been withheld to allow the Government to surround the bad news with bright promises of new development," Stephen Franks said.


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