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Governing addiction: The Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court in New Zealand

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posted on 08.12.2021, 14:45 by Toni Carr

The New Zealand Alcohol and other Drug Treatment Court (AODTC) is an innovative approach to addressing offending by people with an alcohol or other drug addiction. Based on the United States Drug Treatment Court model, the AODTC aims to reduce reoffending, reduce addiction and support offenders’ health and wellbeing. Most studies of DTCs are quantitative and focus on recidivism rates and cost-effectiveness. There have been relatively few in-depth studies of how DTCs operate and even fewer that focus on the offender’s experience.  This thesis is a critical study of the Auckland and Waitakere AODTCs and is the first study of its kind in New Zealand. Conducted over seven months, the fieldwork involved 536 hours of observations, interviews with offenders and informal conversations with court workers, treatment providers and offenders’ families. The research also included extensive analysis of documents produced by and about the AODTC pilot and the US counterparts.  The research found that the AODTC operates in a largely unregulated problem-solving court zone. The wide discretion of judges and collaboration with community treatment providers, lauded by proponents of the AODTC as key to its therapeutic effectiveness, were found to create a number of significant harms for participants. In addition, the focus on addiction as a disease and abstinence as a goal and measure of progress invites judicial subjectivity and places considerable burdens on participants.  The research also found that the AODTC metes out punishment under the guise of treatment, preventing participants from accessing treatment and breach the principle of proportionality in their responses to offending and non-compliance. The competing goals of treatment and punishment also prevent participants from receiving adequate support in the AODTC programme. In particular, Māori, women, transgender, offenders with a coexisting disorder and brain injury are less likely to have access to the right treatment and proper support. These findings challenge the assumptions that the AODTC therapeutic mandate treats AOD related offending and supports offenders’ health and wellbeing. In order to protect AODTC offenders, a series of recommendations for change are made to constrain judicial involvement in treatment, to provide better options for community-based treatment and to ensure appropriate addiction treatment services.  Overall, the thesis provides valuable empirical insight into how the AODTC and the criminal justice system constitute AOD offending, addiction treatment policies, and manage the addicted offender to accomplish recovery. It also adds important data to the international pool of DTC ethnographies and problem-solving court literature, providing a point of focus from which to consider broader policy and evaluative criteria of people’s experiences of treatment in the problem-solving court. It is hoped that this research is able to contribute to law reform involving specialist problem solving courts in New Zealand.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970118 Expanding Knowledge in Law and Legal Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies