The hardships of giving up drugs while on the inside

By Tema Hemi

A former inmate and convicted drug dealer recalls the difficulty of overcoming a drug addiction while in prison.  It comes as Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis announced $128.3mil funding to break the cycle of re-offending and boost addiction services within the prison system.

One former inmate says the support wasn't there for her but could well help others in desperate need in our prisons. 

Awatea Mita says, "That's what ultimately led me to my imprisonment. Through my addictions I got into dealing and then from there I was arrested and then the first time I was arrested, the gravity of the situation hadn't hit me.  I was still using drugs and I just kept offending."

Her heavy methamphetamine and marijuana drug addiction meant having to go cold turkey whilst at Auckland's Regional Women's Corrections Facility. 

However, losing her 13 year old son while in prison was the final straw for Mita.

"At that point the only thing that worried me...was that I would have to somehow reduce my usage, because at that point I was using so much and I didn't want to be drying out in prison," Mita says. 

Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis believes the funding will do some good. 

"It doesn't matter who it is, if the person has a mental condition this funding is here to assist them."

The funding will go towards:

  • A family/whānau service for the whānau of offenders who need mental health services.  Up to 275 families will be supported per year.
  • Supported living accommodation for offenders with intensive mental health needs who are transitioning to the community.  Up to 30 offenders will be supported in total each year.
  • Expanded social worker and trauma counselling services to help offenders reconnect with their whānau/children, address personal trauma, and transition back into the community. Up to 800 prisoners will be supported each year.
  • Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) treatment in prisons. Up to four additional treatment programmes will be established and the 11 existing programmes will be enhanced, enabling up to 204 participants to access treatment per year.
  • Expanding AOD testing and harm reduction support interventions in the community will provide AOD tests and alcohol detection anklets to ensure they avoid drink driving.
  • AOD aftercare support services. Offenders will be able to access the relapse support prevention they need. The number of Aftercare workers will increase to ensure prisoners who have completed AOD treatment programmes are supported to maintain their treatment gains both while in prison and on their return to the community.
  • RecoverRing, an 0800 AOD counselling and support service for people and family/whānau needing lower level AOD support will also continue to be available in both prison and the community.

This funding forms part of the government’s record $1.9bil investment in mental health and addiction support for New Zealanders.

"We are well aware of the depth of how much a mental condition can have [an effect] on our family members while incarcerated," says Davis.

Those at the front lines are getting behind the initiative. 

Corrections officer Charlene Sadlier says, "Its easy for us relate to all inmates, whether male or female, it's not an issue."

Davis is confident that prisoner numbers will start to diminish, if not immediately.

"There is no end line for any inmate. If they have a mental disorder or condition it is up to us to support those in need and it doesn't matter how long it takes. We should never just shove them to the side."

Mita is now in her final year at Victory University studying towards her BA, a double degree in Psychology & Criminology.  She's also an advocate for inmates that are trying to change through her work at Restorative Practices Aotearoa. 

Mita says, "I knew if I didn't find the tools within myself to get through this that I would end up in a life full of despair."