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Arohata Drug Treatment Unit Graduation

Arohata Drug Treatment Unit Graduation

New Zealand’s only drug and alcohol unit programme for female prisoners saw six more women graduate from the programme at Arohata Prison on Monday 20 June.

The prison’s Drug Treatment Unit (DTU) is operated by national treatment provider CareNZ in conjunction with the Department of Corrections. More than 450 women have graduated from the six month programme since it began in 1997.

The 26 week programme has four stages, and there can be up to 20 women on the programme at any one time as they move through the stages.

A substantial majority of prisoners (87%) have a lifetime diagnosis of a substance use disorder, and this is a factor in more than 50 percent of crimes in New Zealand.

Attending the graduation, Prison Director Chris Burns says it is an important step in the women’s treatment and rehabilitation.

“This is a significant occasion for the women. Treatment is not easy and not without its challenges. With the support of each other, CareNZ and Corrections staff they now have the skills and coping mechanisms that will help them when they return to their communities.”

As it is the only women’s prison with a drug treatment unit, eligible prisoners transfer from Auckland Women’s Corrections Facility and Christchurch Women’s Prison for the programme, in accordance with their sentence plan.

The DTU programme supports prisoners to address their alcohol and drug issues and provides participants with the skills to help maintain positive behavioural changes upon release.

“Today, we honour the achievements of the graduates. It always takes real courage and strength for any of us to look at ourselves and commit to change. The women have done just that and they can be really proud of themselves,” says Gill Hood, Chief Operating Officer of CareNZ.

The Arohata DTU is separate from the main prison and provides a supportive and caring environment for the prisoners on the programme. Operating as a therapeutic community, prisoners and staff work together to establish an environment in which participants feel safe to address their own issues, provide support and motivate others. The programme is supported by the use of mentors, who themselves are graduates of the DTU.

“Addiction devastates families, separates children from their parents and the effects ricochet around the community,” says Mr Burns.

“Addressing drug and alcohol abuse not only helps each prisoner, but it also helps the wider community. “

Through structured group work, social skills training and therapy groups the treatment programme addresses factors that influence participants’ alcohol and drug use.

Prisoners who have successfully completed a course in the DTU gain the skills and techniques that will aid them in remaining alcohol and drug free, and in recognising trigger points in their lives that could cause them to relapse.

Graduating from the programme is an important step for the participants and gives them hope for a new start after their release.

Research has shown that people who have addressed their addiction issues through drug treatment programmes have greater motivation to complete other essential rehabilitation programmes, resulting in recidivism rates decreasing.

There are strict criteria for entry to the programme; most importantly, prisoners must acknowledge that they have an addiction and be motivated to make a change in their lives.

There are nine specialist Drug Treatment Units around the country, eight of which are operated by CareNZ. The organisation has worked alongside the Department of Corrections in facilitating drug treatment units across New Zealand since 1997, when the first one at Arohata Prison was opened.

There are also a range of drug and alcohol rehabilitation and intervention programmes offered at other prisons and to offenders on community sentences through Community Corrections and contracted community providers.


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