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O’Connor: New Drug and Alcohol treatment unit

Hon Damien O’Connor
Minister of Corrections,
Minister of Tourism,
Minister for Rural Affairs,
Associate Minister of Health

10 October, 2006 Speech

New Drug and Alcohol treatment unit

It gives me great pleasure to join you here today to open this very practical expression of the Government’s commitment to prisoner rehabilitation.

The Labour-led Government has already spent close to $1 billion to add 2,100 new beds to our prison system.

Providing a secure environment for serious offenders is only part of the Department's role, however. Nearly all prisoners will return to their communities at some point, giving prisons a broader duty – to reduce re-offending by addressing the rehabilitation and re-integration needs of prisoners.

While rehabilitation programmes focus on addressing the underlying causes of offenders’ criminal behaviour, re-integration helps prisoners settle back positively into the community after their release.

These two aspects of the work undertaken in prison work together to make our communities safer.

As we know, the treatment of addictions is an important part of rehabilitation.

The statistics make disturbing reading.

Up to 60 per cent of offenders are affected by alcohol or other drugs at the time of their offending.

The figure is even higher – at a staggering 83 per cent – for those who have abused alcohol or drugs at some point in their lives. For this reason the Government is placing a strong emphasis on the development of alcohol and other drug treatment services for offenders, both in prison and in the community.

This commitment was made clear in the Effective Interventions Strategy which I helped to launch just a few months ago.

Effective Interventions encapsulates significant Government measures to make the justice system more effective, through reducing crime, reducing re-offending and reducing re-imprisonment rates.

As well as new drug and treatment units, the package includes an extensive prisoner employment strategy, new high-intensity special treatment prison units, a sentencing council, a stand-alone Home Detention sentence as part of a tiered system of community-based sentences, and increased use of restorative justice.

The thinking behind the strategy is that an effective criminal justice system must do more than protect our communities by punishing offenders. It must also use offenders’ time in prison to help them become more valuable members of their community on release and to live crime free lives.

This means providing offenders with effective training and education as well as meeting their more basic needs – such as ensuring they are healthy, addiction free and sound of mind.

Some people might say we already have sufficient drug units given the number of pharmaceuticals prescribed in our prisons!

But as we all know, the health status of people who enter prison is generally poor. Many have neglected their health. If we are serious about rehabilitation, improving prisoners' health outcomes is a no-brainer.

This does not detract from the need for Corrections to get prisoners to tackle their addictions.

As part of this Government’s commitment, three further new drug and alcohol treatment units will be built over the next 18 months.

This represents a doubling in the number of units presently available – in Arohata, Waikeria and now Christchurch prisons.

So, we will then see up to 550 prisoners a year receiving the kinds of specialist, intensive treatment that can and does help them turn their lives around.

Providing these much-needed extra treatment places represents a major financial investment from the Labour-led Government.

In the late 1990s there was only one unit – in Arohata Women's Prison in Wellington – with a throughput of 40 prisoners a year.

We have come a long way since then.

This investment will pay off. Research shows that offenders who have been through a treatment unit are 13 per cent less likely to be re-imprisoned after 24 months than if they had not attended treatment.

This is both value for money and a proven way to help make our communities safer.

There are two elements that are essential for a programme like this to succeed.

Firstly, prisoners' addictions need to be identified, and they have to genuinely want to overcome them.

Corrections is testing a comprehensive new health screening tool to ensure we identify mental health and addiction needs, including gambling.

The department is also close to rolling out new motivational programmes to help give offenders the drive to turn their lives around.

Secondly, the ultimate success of the programmes run in these units lies in the hands of the people who deliver the programmes. For this I must thank Care NZ, which has been the provider of Addiction Treatment Services within Arohata and Waikeria for the past seven years.

Care NZ has a lot to be proud of.

During the time it has been running addiction treatment services, Care NZ has continually developed the services offered and its people have become experts at treatment within a custodial environment.

They have proven to be effective at working within the confines of the prison environment, delivering efficient and effective programmes.

As I have already said, treatment programmes only succeed when prisoners genuinely want to overcome their addictions. If a prisoner shows this motivation, I believe that the facilities should be available to support them in making those positive changes.

I know that the quality service provided at other prisons will continue here in Christchurch and I look forward to seeing the first graduates successfully completing the programme.

I wish Corrections’ staff and those of Care NZ every success in your work here at the Drug Treatment Unit. Your work is of great value, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to acknowledge that here today.

It gives me great pleasure to now declare this unit officially open.


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