Judge frustrated by ‘woeful’ drug and alcohol rehab resourcing in Canterbury

Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish says the level of resourcing for the city's alcohol and drug assessment ...
DAVID HALLETT/FAIRFAX NZ

Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish says the level of resourcing for the city's alcohol and drug assessment service is totally unacceptable.

A judge has slammed Canterbury's inadequate resourcing for drug and alcohol assessments after a report was declined for a 17-year-old up for sentencing.

Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish said the region had "woeful resources" and, even if people were in custody, assessments took three-and-a-half months to complete.

It was totally unacceptable, she said. In Auckland, reports took three weeks. The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), which funds Christchurch's Alcohol and other Drugs Assessment Service (ADAS), has acknowledged the situation is "challenging", but says considerable work is being done to improve it.

Rahiri Tai, 17, has been jailed by the Christchurch District Court for a string of offences - all involving alcohol.
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Rahiri Tai, 17, has been jailed by the Christchurch District Court for a string of offences - all involving alcohol.

Rahiri Tai, who was in court to be sentenced on Wednesday, had a very serious alcohol problem and could not remember any of his offending, the judge said.

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Defence counsel Ruth Harcourt said the drug and alcohol assessment request was declined by the Probation Department because there was not enough time to do it before Tai's sentencing.

Corrections said on Friday the referral was completed by a probation officer on the same day. ADAS declined the referral, saying the requested timeframe requested could not be met.

Judge Farish said Tai stole three bottles of alcohol from Riccarton Liquorland on January 8.

The day after, he approached two tourists in a motel car park, assaulted the man and demanded his car keys. A woman intervened and was punched and kicked, before they gave him the keys.

He was over the legal drink-driving limit and recently disqualified from driving, but drove the car dangerously down Riccarton Rd and crashed at the Sockburn roundabout.

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He was taken to hospital, and later released on bail when he appeared in court.

On February 20, in the central city and drunk again, he assaulted a person whose fence he was headbutting, assaulted another person, and then assaulted another man who spent a night in hospital with concussion.

Tai caused $18,000 damage in total, with no ability to pay any of it.

Judge Farish said his actions had significant impact on the tourists who had only recently arrived in Christchurch.

She sentenced Tai to 20 months' prison, and disqualified him from driving for a further six months.

She granted him leave to apply for home detention if a suitable address could be found.

CDHB acting chief executive Mary Gordon said "considerable" work had been undertaken with the courts and Corrections to try reach better outcomes for people with addiction problems, but she acknowledged the situation was "challenging".

The region's mental health services had been under "immense pressure" since the earthquakes and, while there had been efforts to address the growing demand and distress within the community, the board continued to see referral rates climb across a range of specialities, she said.

"We are committed to continuing this work and resolving things that are not working as well as they should be."

Extra resources had been added over the last few years, and there had been "significant emphasis" on improving access to services for people who had offended "to prevent them ending up in prison and when [alcohol and drug] treatment is actually the right outcome".

The ADAS recently made changes to its processes so it could respond better to those in need, and there were clinicians available at court so judges could get advice on the same day, Gordon said.

A governance group – including the CDHB, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility Odyssey House, other non-governmental organisations and Corrections – will meet next week to identify how they can ensure the situation with Tai does not happen again.

 - Stuff

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