Drunk drivers use new 'addicts court'

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012

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A recidivist drunk driver who was on the verge of losing his licence for life has become the first offender to qualify for the country's new "addicts court".

The man, who has been caught drunk behind the wheel nine times, was accepted into the programme at the inaugural sitting of the Alcohol and Other Drug Court in Waitakere yesterday with a warning from the judge that it wasn't an easy option.

"It's an intensive, closely monitored process. We will know what you're doing much better than if you were in the other court," said Judge Lisa Tremewan, who is leading the five-year pilot scheme.

"But we will be there to support you because it's not an easy road."

The courts, nicknamed the "hug-a-thug" scheme in the United States where it has achieved success, aims to reduce reoffending by breaking the addiction cycle through rehabilitation.

Participants must plead guilty then undergo strict supervision, intensive treatment, 24-hour monitoring and take random drug and alcohol tests.

Hugs weren't on offer at Waitakere yesterday, however, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming and at one point, the packed gallery broke into applause when the third candidate revealed he'd been sober for 76 days.

The offender, a man in his 30s, was caught drink driving with a breath alcohol level almost four times the legal limit.

It was his tenth drink-driving charge. He'd been to prison twice and was facing a third sentence of up to two years unless he completed rehabilitation.

He was offered a place in the programme and told the judge he was excited for the future.

The court accepted four participants in total, the other two being a man in his 30s with a history of binge drinking and an eight-page criminal history, and a 22-year-old father of two who was currently in jail for burglary.

Judge Tremewan told the young man she hoped his programme, to be completed at rehab facility Odyssey House, would help him become the person "she knew he could be" and that he would do it justice.

"Today, all four cases qualified and all are coming on board but that will not always be the case. Many people even those suitable, even those who qualify, won't get the chance," Tremewan said.

"I want you to see it as an opportunity."

The court will be held once a week at both Auckland and Waitakere Courts. It aims to deal with around 100 defendants each year.

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