It may seem an unlikely alliance, but Judith Collins and Barack Obama are on the same page when it comes to drug crime.
The Justice Minister has just returned from a week-long trip to the US to see drug courts in session.
On Thursday she will cut the ribbon on a five-year Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts pilot.
Presided over by District Court judges Lisa Tremewan and Ema Aitken, two courts will deal with offenders who have severe drug and alcohol addiction.
Under the innovative justice system, defendants become "graduates". Instead of prison they get intensive rehab. Participants - low level offenders - are routinely tested and regularly appear before the judge for progress reports.
The courts have been operating in the US since 1989 and there are now more than 2500. The US President is a staunch supporter, pledging to expand the programmes before he was elected. His administration has declared them a "third way" to address America's drug problem.
Collins sat in on hearings in San Francisco and New York. She says it's not a soft option for criminals.
"I could see that those before the courts had clearly changed their behaviours and their enthusiasm. But they are very realistic about what can be achieved. My view has always been that if you can prevent crime it is the best thing you can do."
"All but one were really engaged, and there is a lot of positive reinforcement, and a lot of carrot and stick being used."
The $2 million New Zealand pilot was expected to deal with around 100 offenders a year and was forecast to reduce recidivism rates by around 8 per cent. "I'd like to hope we can do better," Collins said.
She also has high hopes for the scheme. "If this works really well in New Zealand, which I hope it will, we may wish to mainstream it more into the way in which we deal with some offenders.
"But we have to wait and see how it goes first, there is a lot of trial and error," she said.
Collins also visited the Red Hook community justice centre in New York where "neighbourhood" problems were solved under one roof, with hearings that would normally go to different courts such as civil, family and criminal.
The Red Hook judge has services at his disposal, including rehab and psychotherapy.
A similar "clinic" approach operates in Porirua and Collins says she has been approached by Counties Manukau police about using the model to deal with domestic violence.
"It's a much more holistic look at it. The reality is you are going to get some people who will relapse off their programmes, but that's not necessarily fatal to the programme."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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