Homeless court rehabilitates offenders

JESSICA TASMAN-JONES
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2012
homeless
Fairfax NZ

NEW APPROACH: The homeless court sentences offenders to treatment rather than jail.

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The establishment of an Auckland court which only deals with homeless people, and sentences them to treatment rather than jail, has seen a 60 per cent drop in reoffending.

The New Beginnings Court was established as a two year pilot in November 2010 in response to repeated appearances of homeless people charged with low level offending.

Since then 38 people have gone through the court, which is held for half a day each month, and preliminary results show the drop in reoffending.

A comprehensive review of the court's success is to be done by August and will examine rehabilitation in terms of health, alcohol and drug usage, tenancy and financial stability.

Yesterday the council's Social and Community Development Forum heard an update on the court as part of an overview of homelessness across Auckland.

There have been suggestions the court should be combined with the new Alcohol and Drug Treatment Courts administered by the Ministry of Justice.

This option is to be considered but the Auckland Homeless Steering Group, which includes council, government and community representatives, wants to keep the courts separate.

The group said evidence from similar "therapeutic courts" in Australia and the United States show they are more effective when targeted to one group.

Funding for the court, which only required one new full-time employee, is provided through social welfare agencies.

The scheme was the brainchild of Lifewise, an Auckland-based community organisation providing services to families in need, the homeless, elderly and the disabled.

A drug court was set up in Christchurch for young offenders about seven years ago but it was considered a failure because about 80 per cent reoffended.

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