Thomas with Dave in the DTU.The Otago Corrections Facility‘s (OCF) Drug Treatment Unit has chalked up a significant milestone this month with its 750th offender completing the prison programme.

Running since 2010, the 12 week programme is designed to give offenders the skills to move away from damaging lifestyles of alcohol and drug misuse.

“Alcohol and Drugs (AoD) are factors in the vast proportion of crime,” says OCF Acting Prison Director, Lyndal Miles.

“Our goal is to release people into the community with tools to help live a crime free future. Alcohol and Drug programmes are an important part of the toolkit we provide in prison.”

Research shows that approximately 60% of community based offenders have an identified AoD need and 87% of prisoners have experienced an AoD problem over their lifetime. Around 50% of crime is committed by people under the influence of AoD.

"For a large number of offenders, prison programmes provide them with an opportunity to deal with their addictions and recognise the role that substances have played in their criminal behaviour. For many, this substance abuse and misuse has cost them their freedom, livelihoods and in some cases their families.”

Dave* is a graduate of the latest programme. In his mid-30’s, Dave has a history of alcohol and drug addiction. “I have had a 20 year morphine habit, a ten year meth habit and in the past had an alcohol addiction,” he says.

A few years ago he went through treatment and dealt with the alcohol addiction, but not the drug habit. Dishonesty offences followed, as he stole to support his habit and now, apart from sisters who have stuck by him, Dave has lost his family to his addictions.

This is the second time he has done a drug and alcohol programme in prison, but this is his first attempt at a residential rehabilitation programme and he says it has made a big difference for him.
“I wasn’t ready to change my lifestyle last time,” he says. “This time I’m older. I can see that my drug habit was doing no favours for my family, my community or myself so I had to make a change and stick to it.”

Thomas Moore, Team Leader Drug Treatment Unit (Care NZ), says Dave has done really well. His progress and attitude is recognised in the unit and he has been asked to be a mentor to a group of other men in the Drug Treatment Unit.

“Men come into the programme with limited insight into the impact that alcohol and drug abuse has had on their lives.  They leave the programme with a much greater awareness of the impacts and strategies to minimise their effect.”

The programme is delivered at the prison by CareNZ a national treatment provider, in conjunction with the Department of Corrections. The treatment programme uses structured group work, social skills training and individual counselling to address the factors that influence a person’s alcohol and other drug use. The prisoners gain skills and techniques that will aid them in remaining alcohol and drug free after their release from prison.

Research into the effectiveness of Drug Treatment Units has shown that people who have completed programmes commit less crime. Once people have tackled their addictions they can also be motivated to complete other essential rehabilitation programmes.

People including prison staff and Dave’s sisters are saying they are proud of him and the progress he has made. “This means a lot to me but has been hard to get used to,” he says. “You get so used to only getting negative feedback and not feeling good about yourself.”

Brought up through family homes and often in trouble, Dave always felt that asking for help was a weakness. “Now I realise that it takes a hell of a lot of strength to ask for help. I had issues trusting others and thought I couldn’t trust anyone.”

Dave says the hardest part of the programme is ‘Rivers’. This is when members of the group stand up in front of their peers and tell their life story. “You talk for about 20 minutes, starting from as far back as you can remember. It makes you vulnerable and that’s not something you often do in a prison.”

“If you want to make change, ask for help, it’s there.”

Lyndal says it’s great to see the changes that people can make. “People like Dave leave the programme with a feeling that they have regained some control in their lives and a plan to put that in action. That has to be good news for everyone.”

*Dave’s real name name is withheld to support his rehabilitation and reintegration.