Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court

Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua, the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) Court, was established in November 2012 as a pilot across two District Court sites: Auckland and Waitākere. The AODT Court has a combined maximum capacity of 100 participants at any one time, with 50 participants at each site.

The Court aims to break the cycle of offending by treating the causes of that offending. It provides an alternative to imprisonment for people whose offending is being driven by alcohol and/or drug substance use disorders.

The AODT Court provides an evidence-based, best practice treatment pathway that includes intensive monitoring, case management, drug testing, and mentoring. Sentencing is deferred while participants work through the programme, which includes regular court appearances to check on progress. The programme may take between one to two years to complete.

Participants who successfully complete the programme are recognised as AODT Court graduates and take part in a ceremony to celebrate their success, which their whānau and other supporters are invited to attend.

Following a participant’s graduation, they are sentenced to a community-based sentence because of their successful participation in the AODT Court programme. This type of sentence also ensures continuing oversight from probation officers to check on recovery progress and ensure compliance with sentence conditions (such as ongoing drug testing).

The AODT Court judge may withdraw a participant from the programme if they don’t comply with the programme’s requirements. At any stage, a participant can also choose to withdraw from the programme. In either situation, their case will proceed for sentencing following standard District Court processes.

The AODT Court has adapted international best practice principles appropriate for Aotearoa New Zealand. For example, the programme includes the integration of Māori cultural practices into court processes, cultural advice and peer support. This approach has been shown to be transformative and achieve better outcomes for those taking part.

In June 2019, an AODT Court Outcomes Evaluation Report was published:

Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court Outcomes Evaluation 2018-19: Summary Evaluation Report

The report found that within two years after graduating from the Court, participants were less likely to offend, less likely to be in prison and less likely to be involved with Police services. Where subsequent offending occurred, it was likely to be less serious offending.

The report also found that participants who completed the AODT programme experienced improved relationships with whānau, improved health, and increased education, training and mahi opportunities.

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How does the AODT Court work for participants?

There are three phases that participants work through during the AODT Court:

  • Phase 1: Participants settle into the Court’s programme and start their recovery journey. They do this by engaging in alcohol and other drug treatment, either residential treatment (live-in) or a community-based programme.
  • Phase 2: Participants continue their treatment plan and receive support as they rebuild their lives by attending other programmes depending on their needs (such as counselling, stopping violence, parenting, road safety, literacy). They’re held to account for their offending by attending restorative justice (where agreed to by victims) and completing voluntary community service mahi.
  • Phase 3: Participants complete their treatment plan and develop an ongoing maintenance plan with their Case Manager. Participants begin reintegrating into the community by finding suitable mahi or study, accommodation and positive activities that will support them in their life after leaving the AODT Court programme.

Throughout all phases of the Court programme, participants also attend recovery meetings and drug testing.

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Roles within the AODT Court

The AODT Court team is made up of the Police prosecutor, defence counsel, clinical case managers, peer support workers, the Pou Oranga (Māori cultural advisor with experience of wellness and substance use recovery), and probation officers, supported by a Court coordinator. The team, led by the judge, works collaboratively to support participants while still holding them accountable for their offending by requiring them to address its underlying causes. Further information about each team member’s role is outlined below.

Ensuring public safety is a central focus of the AODT Court. The Police prosecutor’s role includes informing the Court of victims’ views and providing relevant information about the participant.

The role of the specialist defence counsel is to provide services that advocate for and represent participants to ensure their rights are protected. They also have a role to play in sharing information with the AODT Court team about how participants are progressing through the Court. A participant’s representation will change from their existing defence counsel to this specialist defence counsel on entry to the Court.

Clinical case managers coordinate the treatment programme tailored for participants to address their alcohol and/or drug dependency issues and provide a recovery programme.  They regularly report back to the AODT Court team as to how participants are progressing with their treatment.

Peer support workers have lived experience of recovery (and frequently also have experience of the criminal justice system) and provide mentoring and support to participants while they’re working through the AODT Court programme. They are also an important part of team discussions about participants’ progress.

The Pou Oranga has expertise in te reo Māori and tikanga, along with experience of substance use recovery and wellness. Their role involves role modelling and providing advice to the team and to the Court on how to engage with Māori participants, while also ensuring that kaupapa Māori aspects are included in the Court process and treatment plan.

Specialist probation officers represent Ara Poutama Aotearoa – Department of Corrections. They attend pre-Court meetings and determination hearings, facilitate graduates’ transition to the Probation Service, and proactively manage graduates’ community-based sentences, where continued focus is on ensuring that recovery activities are maintained.

The Court co-ordinators help manage relationships and the flow of information between external stakeholders and the AODT Court team, including overseeing drug testing results.

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How can victims be involved?

Victims of offending committed by an AODT Court participant can:

  • give their views to the AODT Court (through the Police prosecutor or the Court victim advisor), including before the determination hearing (where the AODT Court judge decides whether to offer the participant a place in the AODT Court)
  • choose to be involved in a restorative justice meeting (if appropriate), where options for community service activities for the participant are discussed
  • be informed about the participant’s progress through the AODT Court, and any reparation or financial restitution to which victims may be entitled.

Further information for victims can be found in the factsheet below:

Information for Victims for Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts [PDF, 168 KB]

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How can whānau and friends support AODT Court participants?

Whānau and friends of AODT Court participants are actively encouraged to:

  • listen and offer encouragement and support
  • help with transport (for example, to and from court, drug testing appointments, treatment programmes and recovery meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous)
  • attend the AODT Court to support their whānau member/friend
  • support participants to comply with their bail conditions
  • support participants to comply with the requirements of the AODT Court
  • help participants to avoid situations where they’re likely to encounter opportunities to use alcohol and drugs.

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Frequently asked questions about the AODT Court

Why have a Drug Court?

The AODT Court aimstobreak the cycle of offending by treating the causes of that offending. Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua - the Auckland and Waitākere AODT Courts align with international research and best practices for Drug Courts1. It has been the subject of numerous evaluations since it began operating in November 2012:

Formative Evaluation for the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court Pilot (2014)

Final Process Evaluation for the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court (2016)

Report Back on the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court Pilot and other AOD related Initiatives Paper (2017)

Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court Outcomes Evaluation 2018-19: Summary Evaluation Report (2019)

The Summary Evaluation Report published in June 2019 provides an overview of the effectiveness of the Aotearoa New Zealand AODT Court.

1Carey SM, Mackin JR & Finigan MW. (2012). What works? The ten key components of drug Court: research-based best practices. In: National Drug Court Institute. 2012. Best Practices in Drug Courts. Drug Court Review, Vol VIII, Issue I. Alexandria, Virginia.

Why is the Adult Drug Court only in Auckland and Waitākere District Courts?

Auckland and Waitākere were chosen as the sites for the first adult AODT Court pilot in Aotearoa New Zealand. Following a positive evaluation of the Court’s outcomes in 2019, a project is currently under way to strengthen the existing AODT Court in Auckland and Waitākere and to establish an AODT Court in the Waikato. A Youth Drug Court has been operating in Christchurch since 2002.

What are the eligibility criteria?

To be eligible for the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court in Auckland or Waitākere, the following criteria must be met. Applicants must:

  • be a New Zealand citizen or resident
  • be aged 17 years and over
  • have a residential address and live in the Court catchment area
  • be facing charges at the Auckland or Waitākere District Courts  
  • be charged with offending that is driven by alcohol or other drug dependency, including recidivist (repeat) drink driving convictions
  • be facing charges for which the sentencing starting point is imprisonment (for a period of up to three years)
  • have no other charges going through the Court that cannot be combined with these charges
  • be able to attend programme sessions
  • enter or indicate a guilty plea
  • be willing to participate in the AODT Court programme
  • be referred by a judge
  • be considered a high risk of reoffending
  • have a moderate to severe substance-related dependency
  • be at risk of harming themselves, their whānau and the community because of using alcohol or other drugs.

Why are some people not eligible for AODT Courts?

Applicants may not be accepted into the AODT Court if:

  • they have serious mental or medical health issues that may prevent their successful participation
  • their only active charges are breaches of a sentence or court order
  • they are currently facing charges relating to sexual or serious violence, arson, or Category 4-related offending (or have previously been convicted of one of these types of offending).

These safeguards reflect best practices from international research and help ensure there are suitable treatment pathways for participants.

What are the expectations of participants while in the AODT Court?

Participants of the AODT Court are expected to:

  • appear at the AODT Court regularly as directed (typically every 2, 3, or 4 weeks) to be accountable for their progress
  • comply with their bail conditions and the treatment and other requirements of the AODT Court
  • show a willingness to engage in treatment and other supports offered by the Court
  • be drug tested and/or wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet as required by the Court
  • be honest, open and transparent with the Court
  • behave in a way that brings mana to themselves and to the Court.

What is the AODT Court process?

Further information about how the AODT Court operates and what happens on AODT Court sitting days be found in the AODT Court Factsheet:

Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court Factsheet [PDF, 269 KB]

Why do participants need to reside in the Auckland/Waitākere AODT Court area?

To be eligible to attend the AODT Court, participants must appear in the Auckland or Waitākere District Courts and reside within the Court catchment. This helps ensure that participants can attend regular Court appearances and drug testing appointments, and access treatment programmes and support.

Further information on the location of the District Courts can be found on the Te Tāhū o te Ture - Ministry of Justice website:

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