An Exploration of The Role of Addiction in The Persistence and Desistance of Criminal Offending

Burnside, David
Thom, Katey
Quince, Khylee
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Master of Laws
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Auckland University of Technology

Most of New Zealand prisoners have been diagnosed with either a mental health or substance use disorder within their lifetime. This presents complex challenges in how to meet their needs and prevent continued marginalisation and disconnection from society. The use of diverse pūrākau (stories) of success in whānau ora (wellbeing) and stopping offending are missing from academic and public discourse that direct law and policy changes.

The aim of this research is to explore the role of addiction in the persistence and desistance of criminal offending. There is a focus within the research on key turning points, supports and interventions that played a part in the process of desistance to inform law and policy to better support reintegration following re-incarceration. I describe the theory and application of a co-production methodology directed by an indigenous Kaupapa Māori methodology and how kaumatua (Māori elders), academics and practitioners work with people with lived experience of mental health, addiction, and incarceration to create justice policy solutions.

The findings suggest that the Kaupapa Māori approach informed the co-production methodology and ensured the kawa (protocol and guidelines) gave clear direction for engagement at all levels of the research. This brought the co-production methodology to life, moving beyond theory to the practicalities of ‘doing’ with each other in a safe, ethical way for all. A strong association exists between unmet mental health and addiction needs and reoffending. Tackling cultural, health, social and justice issues requires a multi-layered approach from a range of lived experience experts to inform future policy and law reform.

Recommendations are made for changes in legislation and health policy, service provision, education, and the focus of research. Changes are required in all these areas to increase positive outcomes for people caught in the revolving door of addiction and involvement with the criminal justice system.

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