Rehab, not jail for drug court crims

Last updated 05:00 26/05/2011

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Offenders with serious drug and alcohol problems could get a chance to go to rehab instead of jail if a new drug court pilot goes ahead.

The Law Commission recommended the establishment of a drug court pilot that would see sentencing delayed while offenders underwent rehabilitation and detoxification treatment.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Simon Power said the Justice Ministry was working with other government agencies, including the Health Ministry, and would report back on the cost effectiveness and funding availability for the programme.

"The Minister thinks the idea of drug courts is a really interesting idea," he said.

If the pilot court goes ahead it is likely to be housed at the Waitakere District Court.

Similar courts are used in many Australian states.

The New South Wales Drug Court was established in 1998. Those accepted into the system are remanded in custody for detoxification and assessment for up to two weeks. They must plead guilty, are given a suspended sentence and then undergo treatment for up to 12 months.

If offenders fail to complete the programme they can be re-sentenced. Offenders who are likely to be granted bail are sent to an early referral treatment programme.

NSW has also had a Youth Drug and Alcohol Court since 2000.

National MP Katrina Shanks is leading a delegation of MPs from the social services select committee in Australia this week.

They have spent the last eight months on an inquiry into youth offending and are about to start writing their report to present to Parliament.

In Sydney they visited the Youth Drug and Alcohol Court on Monday and sat through a case.

"We're looking at doing something similar in New Zealand, so we're having discussions around that at the moment."

The MPs' trip was funded by the Australian government and is part of an annual trans-Tasman exchange.

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- The Dominion Post


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