This week guest blogger Liz Moore gives a run down the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court’s in New Zealand building on the observations of Prof. Michael Perlin in his earlier blog.  Mainstream/traditional courts can learn a lot from this specialist court practice, in particular, the powerful role of culture in healing and recovery…

There are 27 specialist courts in New Zealand (two Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts (Waitakere and Central Auckland); eight Family Violence Courts; 13 Youth Courts; one Youth Drug Court; one Youth Intensive Monitoring Court and two Homeless Courts).

The Courts have been operating for three years as part of a five year pilot.  The court in Waitakere has graduated 55 participants to date, each of whom has undertaken an average of 196 hours of community service work.  Therapeutic Jurisprudence is part of the court’s strategic planning.

Like most of the criminal courts, the AODTC is heavily populated by Maori participants who typically demonstrate all the classic symptoms of a colonized culture (poverty, crime, health and housing issues, lack of education, employment, structure and motivation, etc.) One of the most remarkable and unique aspects of the AODTCs is the incorporation of Maori culture into court proceedings.  The court uses Maori ceremonial rituals such as singing (waiata) and prayer (karakia).  When a participant graduates there is a recovery haka performed. Both courtrooms are adorned with three panels by a prominent Maori artist representing the AA Serenity Prayer.  The contributions of the participants’ family (whanau), the wider community and that of the Pou Oranga or Maori Cultural Adviser to the Court cannot be measured.

The Pou Oranga Rawiri “Ra” Pene is a tribal elder and addict in recovery for 24 years who has a dramatic impact on proceedings.  Relevant metaphors and cultural references to participants’ lives are tools which the court can use to inspire participants to become their better / higher selves.  This has a powerful and uplifting effect on those present, and there is a palpable sense of dignity and respect in the courtroom.  The cultural context is a superb example of best practice in action.

The Judge engages therapeutically with each individual and allows the time necessary for each case, at least five minutes per person. Research has shown that the judge has the biggest effect on drug court participants and in New Zealand it is no different.  The relationship between the judicial officer and the participant is ‘the power in the room’.

The best work in drug courts is done with high risk, high needs non-compliant offenders, not ‘catch and release’ offenders. (‘If they’re easy, they don’t need drug court’).  Drug court should be ‘easy to get into and hard to fail out of’. If the right cohort is targeted, half should graduate and half should do better than they were doing before.  It appears that the AODTC is right on track.

This blog is an adjunct to Prof. Michael Perlin’s previous blog on the AODTCs With thanks to Peggy Hora!

Liz Moore, Court Diversion Officer, Court Mandated Diversion (Drug Court), Community Corrections, Tasmania.

3 thoughts on “Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua (The House that Heals the Spirit)

  1. This works if you are willing to work at it.It also should not be looked upon as a easy alternative as you need to put 100 percent effort into it and your recovery soon becomes your way of life.
    Graduate #110


    1. Really interesting point. TJ approaches like indigenous courts and drug courts, are often not easy as they require real commitment to do the hard recovery work and to be accountable to the program, the judge elders and yourself family and community.


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