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Drug Court: Rare Insight into New Alternative Justice Model



Documentary Offers Rare Insight into a New Alternative Justice Model

Māori Television’s latest New Zealand documentary presents a fascinating look inside a new alternative justice model – through the stories of convicted criminals.

DRUG COURT: RETHINKING REHAB screens Monday, September 1 at 9.30pm and follows five offenders on their journeys to possible recovery through the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court (AODT).

The AODT Court, Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua, is a pilot programme that offers adult offenders the chance to face their demons and address their addictions through a supportive yet confronting court process.

It is unlike any other courtroom experience, where participants respond to applause and receive medals of achievement with unashamed emotion.

Following on from Notable Pictures’ powerful documentary Restoring Hope, which aired on Māori Television in 2013, DRUG COURT provides unique insight into an alternative justice model.

Viewers follow the stories of five convicted criminals who are at various stages of the 12-18 month programme, ranging from a new entrant to the court’s first successful graduate.

Under the watchful eye of the tough but compassionate judges who have spearheaded this initiative, Judge Lisa Tremewan of Waitakere District Court and Judge Ema Aitken of Auckland District Court, each offernders' struggles provide compelling insight into the circumstances that lead to criminal behaviour.

Director and producer Julia Parnell says capturing the unfolding stories of the offenders and learning about their backgrounds was at times harrowing and at others inspirational for her and assistant director Corinna Hunziker.

“We hope DRUG COURT gives our audience a new understanding of the power of addiction, and just how inevitable it is for some people, given their situation,” she says.

“We have witnessed how much determination, defeat, resignation, willpower and sheer time and hard work it takes to break out of an addiction, and the sort of comprehensive systems that need to be built just to help one person.”

Despite making up only 15 per cent of the country’s total population (4.5 million), as of 2012, 51 per cent of approximately 8600 people incarcerated in New Zealand prisons are Māori.

And with the New Zealand Police estimating that half of violent crimes are related to alcohol consumption, it is clear that an alternative approach to alcohol-related crime is what is needed to help stem the tide of Māori offending.

Tune in to DRUG COURT on Monday, September 1 at 9.30pm to decide for yourself.


The Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court (AODT Court) began its five-year pilot in November 2012. The court is based on the demonstrably successful US Drug Court model. It is designed to supervise offenders whose offending is driven by their alcohol and other drug (AOD) dependency, by providing judicial oversight of their engagement with treatment programmes and rehabilitation support services before they are sentenced.
More information: http://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/district-court/alcohol-and-other-drug-treatment-aodt-court-pilot-1)


Appointed to the District Court at Waitakere in 2005, in addition to spearheading the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court (Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua) with Judge Ema Aitken, Judge Lisa Tremewan sits in the general, youth and jury trial jurisdictions. She previously served on the Tenancy Tribunal and Refugee Status Appeals Authority and graduated BA/ LLB (Hons) (1985) and M Jur (Dist) (1986) from the University of Auckland. Before her appointment to the Waitakere Court she spent two decades practising law primarily in South Auckland and has a passion for restorative justice and therapeutic interventions.

Appointed to the District Court at Auckland in 2007, Judge Aitken sits in the general, jury and youth courts. Having obtained her LLB (Auckland) and LLM (London), she worked as prosecuting counsel in London before returning home where she practiced as defence counsel working predominantly in South Auckland. Before her appointment to the Bench, she chaired the Refugee Status Appeals Authority for several years.


The documentary joins this repeat drunk driver two months into his time with the AODT Court as he faces a potential termination from the programme. He is openly confrontational with the judge and denies driving while disqualified but reluctantly agrees to enter a residential treatment facility anyway. A father of two small children, the pain and heartbreak is evident as he says goodbye to them in this last-ditch attempt to stay in the AODT Court and turn his life around.

“I’m still nervous just ‘cos I don't know what to expect. The worst outcome for me is being taking away from my family, which is going to happen anyway but there’s a positive you know. Go to jail there is no positive when you come out.”

At 25, Brian is one of the youngest participants featured in the documentary and due to his age, is statistically more likely to fail in his attempts at recovering. However, he is also one of the longest serving participants in the court. With a possible graduation and end to his Drug Court obligations in sight, Brian must face up to something he has long tried to hide from: true remorse and forgiveness.

“You know I have never really felt remorseful for things because I just couldn't. In order for me to survive out there, I did crime for a living, I couldn't let my feelings get involved.”

In this rare insight, cameras capture the discussion between the AODT Court team as they consider Gavin’s past history of serious offending and his eligibility to enter the court programme. We join Gavin in residential treatment while he contemplates how he is changing and how he will cope as he moves to an outpatient programme.
“When you are spending your life as an addict you’re always in denial. I used to try and drag it out, enter a no plea, not guilty and then if I needed to take it to trial, you know, I would see what other options is out there. But, you know, if you are in the Drug Court, the first step you have to do is plead guilty to your charges and admit, you know, admit you are wrong”.

We join Dillon on the streets of Auckland where he walks us through his time spent dealing in drugs and violence. Currently 7 months clean, we learn what a fine line it is between a life of sobriety and returning to the streets for a man who has been selling and using methamphetamine since he was 14. It’s going to be a rocky ride for Dillon as he attempts to change a lifetime’s habit.

“When I was selling drugs, like, I would be mainly on Queen Street….Randoms would come up to me and ask me ‘do you know where to score a half or a dollar bag’ or something. And maybe, you know, if I was feeling a bit generous I would take their money and give them something in return, you know. If I was looking to rip them off, I would take them down a dark alley.”

This career criminal is in the process of a radical change. With 6 year’s jail time behind him, Dominic is now confronting his demons and is on his way to becoming one of the court’s most respected participants.

“I am one action away from going back to the path I was on. That’s no crime, not one, ‘cos one will lead to a thousand. Just like the drugs or alcohol. It’s all or nothing and that is the way it has got to be for me.”

© Scoop Media

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