I read with interest the article "rehab versus prison for criminals" in the Weekend Herald on the introduction of drug courts to New Zealand and the role of victims of crime in the in the sentencing of those who have caused distress or harm to them.
Two years ago a family friend was killed by a repeat drink driver. The driver had seventeen previous convictions and nearly one hundred other drink or drug related crimes.
I felt that our friend's death was avoidable and so started to research in depth the history of the driver and his contact with the criminal justice system. I investigated how repeat offenders whose offending was alcohol or other drug related were dealt with more effectively in other parts of the world.
My work led me to produce a paper entitled "The Case for Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts in New Zealand". I learned that addiction cannot be punished away and that unless there was a concerted effort to help those whose disease constantly led them back before the courts all we would be doing was ensuring that there would be more victims.
It takes a lot to get an offender to jail these days with the trend being towards more community based sentences. Our friend was killed and the driver got a five-year sentence but would be up for parole in two years and eight months.
Those given jail sentences and who are in need of treatment usually receive this towards the end of their sentence and are then released back into the community with no serious thought given to their aftercare. The driver in our case left prison on one occasion and ended up living in a ditch; he re-offended in a very short space of time and was once again back in jail.
I don't believe I need to go into detail on why I believe drug courts work and to go on about statistics and figures, my research is freely available at www.drugcourts.co.nz for all to read for themselves.
My work also revealed the need for some offenders to be in jail to protect the public and I am an advocate of preventive detention for those where all other attempts, including drug court, have failed. The role of retribution is a valid one but not morally correct if all we are doing is ignoring the causes of the criminal activity and just punishing the individual crime.
So what then is the role of victims of crime? It is obvious that this is an individual response and for many an emotional one.
We believe that the loss of our friend must have great consequences as the pain and suffering of all who knew our friend was so great. We believe the greatest thing we can do is to attempt to reduce the chances of this happening to anyone else.
We are all potential victims and one hundred plus of us will die in alcohol related crashes this year. We don't know who it will be, or where it will happen? But it is going to happen.
I believe the Police, Judiciary and other Government departments who deal with offenders do a great job with the resources available to them but it is we the public, potential victims all, who should be the most motivated to lessening the chances of us becoming victims of crime. Let us get informed on what is really the most effective approach.
I have spent the last two years immersed in all aspects of the criminal justice system and the circumstances that led to our friend's death.
I have worked with the police at drink driving checkpoints, I have met and discussed treatment and rehabilitation with providers in New Zealand and have had meetings with all the related Government bodies. I have worked with experts from all around the world on related matters.
Returning to the proposed drug courts, I have been asked to join the Community Advisory committee of these courts and will do all I can to reduce the number of victims in New Zealand. The research from the drug courts is clear - they significantly reduce reoffending, and incidentally also save costs, they are the most researched court in the world.
Yes, we were happy to see the driver that killed our friend go to jail but we would have been happier if the causes of his offending had been dealt with properly many years ago, saving the country hundreds of thousands of dollars and our friend's life.