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Court scheme offers help to addicted offenders

Nov 13th, 2008 | By | Category: Latest News, News

A DRUG and alcohol assessment system has been introduced at Wellington District Court to reduce numbers of re-offenders.

The programme is as a pilot course to assist those who end up in front of the court facing charges relating to substance abuse.

Reoffending rates are really high and show that previous punishments have not helped at all, says drug and alcohol clinician for the court Marita Berndt (pictured).

“People always say ‘aw, those poor people just get sent to jail when they need help’. We give them that opportunity.

“And if someone wants to help themselves, the judges will do anything to keep them out of jail.”

Judges and lawyers can both refer clients to Ms Berndt if they suspect the defendant might have a problem, or when trying to prove they do not.

Binge drinkers are the biggest problem and most commonly charged with drink driving or assault, she says.

“They do something stupid and the next day are embarrassed about it. It’s out of character and completely manipulated by alcohol.”

She says binge drinkers clog up the system and it can take longer for more serious addiction cases to be dealt with.

“There’s not a lot of funding and there are long waiting lists.”

If an assessment shows they have a serious problem and need to live in residential care, the waiting lists can be two or three months long.

Another new system has also been put in place for 17 to 25-year-olds who have faced the courts because of drug and alcohol issues.

The programme, WATCH (Whanganui-a-Tara Courts and Health Project), addresses issues of substance abuse.

It provides support for clients at court appearances, helps with employment, finding accommodation and with other family issues.

Police, lawyers and judges can refer someone to WATCH, but they also take clients who refer themselves for help.

WATCH worker Wayne England has had positive feedback about the programme.

One client says the programme opened up their mind to what they could do to help themselves, like getting counselling.

“Without the help from [WATCH] life would be completely different…[I] would have gone to prison,” says another.

Another WATCH client: “When you are on charges it can be really intensive. There are a whole lot of things going on and you need help. Having someone like WATCH is really helpful. (Watch) walks you through the things that might help”.

WATCH is supported by a range of agencies and is funded by the Capital Coast DHB.

Contacts for the WATCH team about drug and alcohol related issues:
Phone: 04-389-3689
Or visit:

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