Calls for more safe houses to stop addicts ending up back in prison

Wāhine stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction-fuelled offending are being offered a lifeline by a network of recovered Māori addicts.

They're running their own accommodation and rehabilitation services for former inmates without Government funding. 

Corrections women's strategy said female offenders are more likely to have mental health issues, resulting in high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance addictions.

It has Te Ira Wāhine, an eight-week trauma addiction programme for high-security female prisoners that tries to address these underlying causes of offending. 

However, many, like Lesley Allen (Ngāti Maniapoto) who have gone through the programme, end up going back into their old environments upon release. 

She's just 34 years old but has had 152 convictions. She's spent the better part of a decade in prison. The majority of her crimes are thefts and robberies. 

Allen's methamphetamine addiction is the major driver of her offending.

"I've been an IV drug user since I was like 12/13. It was that long ago when I was that young. I don't actually remember starting," she told The Hui.

She grew up on Karangahape Road in central Auckland in the 90s with her father, who was a major drug dealer for the inner city. 

"Cooking meth, selling meth, using meth, violence, gangs, gang association - all of that was just normalised for me. And it was like living in a movie."

As she became more addicted, she was faced with two options to pay for her habit - prostitution or crime. She chose the latter. 

"I was always caught up on a robbery charge."

The turning point was her father's fatal overdose.

"My dad died with a needle hanging out of his arm.

"And that's when I decided that I needed to change, because I have a 20-year-old and the last thing I want to do is give her that enormous weight to carry.

"And I was going down that road. I was an absent mother. I put addiction first, in and out of prison, involved with gangs. The last bit of the puzzle was for me to die with a needle hanging out of my arm."

He Whakaoranga Recovery Hub in Kaikohe is a community space that runs programmes for recovering addicts. It's given Allen a second chance. 

"I came to the Hub broken. I guess I had given up on myself. Everyone had," Allen said.

Bessina Pehi and Stu Eiao.
Bessina Pehi and Stu Eiao. Photo credit: The Hui

Former addicts turned counsellors Stu Eiao and Bessina Pehi are among those who've helped her stay clean for almost a year now. 

They have been running community-based addiction support services infused with kaupapa Māori since 2015, using the power of haka and waiata as an outlet for those in recovery. 

Eiao and Pehi have also worked inside jails - they designed the Te Ira Wāhine programme.  

Pehi said: "Everyone that's come across from my experiences, they go back in because they haven't dealt with that addiction issue." 

A lack of culturally appropriate intervention was just one gap they discovered in the system for Māori addicts. 

"The thing that was missing was the accommodation. That was the piece that was missing between prison and being integrated into a community group out here," Pehi said. 

They set up a nine-bedroom whare in Papakura, He Waka Taiora, to provide accommodation for those with addiction issues. 

Most in the home have come from prison and the whare is a stepping stone towards more intensive rehabilitation. 

The home is run without government funding, with those who come into the home chipping in for expenses. 

The house now has a waitlist of 12. 

Pehi and Eiao said there is a desperate need for pre and post-treatment safe houses like He Waka Taiora. 

Corrections said all prisoners are offered ongoing recovery support for up to 12 months after completing an in-prison AOD programme. 

In the last year, 105 prisoners across the country received this aftercare support. 

They have contracts with 12 community residential drug and alcohol care programmes across the country for those with high needs but said they're unfamiliar with He Waka Taiora. 

Made with support from New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.