Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


(ii)  Drug Misusing Offenders

205. The problem of drug related crime is a burden with which participants in the criminal justice system are all too familiar. The problem is not confined to the sale and use of drugs, but includes the consequential problem of crime which is committed purely to fund the offender's drug habit. Such habits are not cheap: we were told during a visit to Greenock that some young teenagers in the area had £80 a day heroin habits. The maintenance of such expensive habits is often achieved by crime. This crime causes great problems for whole communities, particularly poorer sections of society which tend to be hit hardest. In Dumbarton we witnessed at first hand the despair which is caused by widespread drug use, and the criminal activity which pays for it.

206. Such anecdotal evidence detailing the problem of drug related crime is backed up by research. A two-year research programme conducted in Cambridge, Hammersmith, Trafford, Nottingham and Sunderland conducted urinalysis tests on people arrested and interviewed them about drugs. The average rate of positive testing for drugs[244] across all areas was 61 per cent.[245] 46 per cent of those who reported using drugs in the last year believed that their drug use and crime were connected. The extent of drug-related crime is staggering: ACOP and the Central Probation Council estimate that drug users known to the service commit 1,250,000 offences a year—around a quarter of all recorded crime.[246] It was recently estimated that a group of 1,100 drug misusers included in research had committed over 70,000 offences in 3 months. [247] Sentencers are aware of the alarming level of drug-related crime: Mr Tim Workman, a stipendiary magistrate, agreed that it was the most serious problem facing the criminal justice system and added that "there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of crime over the past five or 10 years which is attributable to illicit drugs".[248]

The work of the probation service with drug-misusing offenders

207. Offenders given probation orders or combination orders may have to undergo treatment for a drug and/or alcohol problem, as an additional requirement of those orders. Such treatment may be residential or non-residential, and may or may not be undertaken by a qualified medical person. In 1996 the numbers of offenders commencing supervision with such additional requirements were as follows:

Probation orders with additional requirements for drugs / alcohol treatment[249]

Type of additional requirement

  Probation orders

Combination orders

Residential drugs/alcohol treatment



Non-residential drugs/alcohol treatment



Drugs/alcohol by/under qualified medical person



All persons given orders (with and without additional requirements)



208. One method of working with drug-misusing offenders involves group sessions which attempt to challenge the offender's behaviour. For example, the Drug User Offending Programme run by Greater Manchester Probation Service requires offenders to attend 10 two-hour sessions which "focus on challenging existing beliefs and attitudes, increasing awareness of the negative impact of continued drug use, developing self control techniques and setting positive and achievable targets for the future".[250] Offenders there "will also be encouraged to develop links with community based drug support agencies in order to increase the likelihood of long term change."

209. The inter-agency work referred to above is vital to the success of interventions with drug misusing offenders. The White Paper, Tackling Drugs Together (1995), prompted the establishment of Drug Action Teams (DATS) to aid this work. DATS combine senior representatives of the police, prison and probation services (the latter being represented at chief officer level), alongside those from local authorities (including education and social services departments) and health authorities. The role of DATS is to ensure that services for drug misusers are co-ordinated effectively on a local basis, in line with national strategy. The Probation Inspectorate found, in its thematic inspection into the work of the probation service with drug misusers, that "DAT members interviewed....were without exception extremely positive about the contribution of probation managers. They were reported to be very regular attenders,,,[and] it was said that [they] were seen as being "honest brokers", mediating any conflict of agendas between criminal justice interests and those of health and education, whilst at the same time promoting probation service interests appropriately".[251]

210. We saw an example of inter-agency co-operation when we visited the Bolton Drug Misusing Offenders Project. In 1995 a survey identified that 70% of offenders under supervision in Bolton were known to misuse drugs, and that only 10.8% of these were receiving any kind of treatment. The Project was funded by the Department of Health's "Building Partnerships for Success" initiative and was designed as a "satellite" service of the Bolton Community Drug Team. Although it is staffed by a single resource worker, its remit was to devise, co-ordinate and deliver a comprehensive package of assessment, treatment, harm reduction and referral services to drug misusers subject to probation supervision in Bolton, and in so doing it calls on the resources of a number of different agencies. Between October 1996 and January 1998, 729 offenders were assessed by probation workers to establish the nature and extent of any drug use; 43% indicated a level of misuse which might be harmful or hazardous. Over the same period, 564 offenders have been offered the full range of urine sampling, methadone reduction programmes, counselling and onward referral to residential treatment facilities, with 307 offenders subsequently attending. Offenders have also participated in the kind of group programmes for drug misusing offenders we referred to earlier.

211. We discussed the work of the project with three offenders who had used it. One of them was currently on a methadone treatment programme to prevent further heroin use; the two other ex-offenders said that the project had been instrumental in helping them to stop using heroin, with one saying that he "might be dead" had it not been for the project. The project has only been evaluated on a small scale, and over a limited time-period, but initial results are encouraging in terms of reduced drug use: of 15 drug misusing offenders who attended the project, only one has increased his drug use, with 80 per cent reporting a complete cessation of drug use.[252] This fits with the findings of HMIP that, "in most services, the majority of individuals who were seeking to address their drug misuse through treatment were judged to be reducing or controlling their drug misuse, with the proportion being as high as 80 per cent of offenders in some services".[253]

212. The Lord Chief Justice, while he recognised that the most serious drug misusing offenders who represented a threat to the public's protection needed to be imprisoned, made the case that community sentences were often more effective at protecting the public in the longer term from offenders with drug habits. He argued that, in the case of an offender who goes "into prison who has been committing crimes every day of their lives for years on end to fund a drug habit, shutting them up in prison and doing nothing to cure the drug habit does not protect society except for the short period when they are actually in prison. If on the other hand you could cure them of the drug addiction out of prison then in the longer term that would be very much better protection for society.... Constructive rehabilitative measures in anything other than a case where custody is the only resort is a very good way of protecting society".[254]

213. While we accept that drug traffickers and dealers will often have to be imprisoned we note the argument of the Lord Chief Justice that prison is not, generally, effective in reducing inmates' drug habits and that long term protection of the public could be more effectively achieved by giving some offenders community sentences in which they will get help in breaking their habits. Encouraging evidence exists to suggest that some probation programmes can achieve a stabilisation or reduction in drug use in 80 per cent of cases. We commend the work of those like the Bolton Drug Misusing Offenders Project which does so by engaging in extensive inter-agency work.

Drug treatment and testing orders

214. Another interesting aspect of the Bolton Project is that it tests offenders throughout their period of attendance to monitor their use of drugs; this is in line with recent Government thinking on the subject. The Government's proposed drug treatment and testing order, will be a new power enabling courts to impose drug treatment, with the consent of the offender, to specify some of the terms of the treatment and to review the offender's progress. There will be regular, random, mandatory drug testing.

215. The new order was welcomed by a number of our witnesses. Ms Jane Furniss of the Probation Inspectorate said that "the drug treatment and testing order is going to provide a real opportunity".[255] Paul Cavadino of the Penal Affairs Consortium stressed the importance of treatment for drug users: "the evidence shows that whether drug users are given custody, probation or community service, if the probation does not include drug treatment the rate of drug use two years later is very much the same whatever has been done".[256]

216. NACRO stated that they "strongly support the Government's view that more drug misusers should be the subject of court-ordered drug treatment", but warned that "it would be difficult to expand the use of drug treatment for offenders significantly unless adequate resources can be guaranteed to finance treatment programmes. At present community care funding for drug treatment and rehabilitation is not 'ring fenced'. We suggest that funding should be earmarked to fund the treatment of drug-misusing offenders".[257]

217. We welcome the introduction of drug treatment and testing orders, and particularly the fact that the courts will be able to monitor the progress which offenders make in breaking their habits. Given the encouraging research that suggests that treatment can stabilise or reduce addiction in the majority of cases we think it is a priority that such treatment be available. We note that the drug treatment and testing orders are to be piloted and we urge the Government, pending the results of those pilot schemes, to ensure that adequate resources are available to extend the orders nationally. Given the alarming extent of crime related to drug misuse we believe that public spending in this area would be cost-effective in the longer term. We therefore recommend that the Government make it an objective that all drug misusing offenders given community sentences have access to appropriate treatment.

244  Drugs tested for were cannabinoid metabolite, opiates (including heroin), methadone, cocaine metabolite (including crack), amphetamines (including ecstasy), benzodiapenes and LSD. Back

245  Drugs and Crime: the results of research on drug testing and interviewing arrestees, Home Office Research study 183 (1998), p viii. Back

246  Drink and Drugs, a leaflet produced by ACOP and the Central Probation Council, p 1. Back

247  Tackling Drugs Together: Report of a Thematic Inspection on the Work of the Probation Service with Drug Misusers, HMIP, 1997, p 21. Back

248  Q 557. Back

249  Probation Statistics England and Wales 1996, Home Office, 1997, pp 30-31. Back

250  Probation Programmes: Drug User Offending Programme, Greater Manchester Probation Service, p 2. Back

251  Tackling Drugs Together: Report of a Thematic Inspection on the Work of the Probation Service with Drug Misusers, HMIP, 1997, p 47. Back

252  Bolton Drug Misusing Offenders Project, Stuart Rose with Lynda Marginson, May 1998, p 69. Back

253  Tackling Drugs Together: Report of a Thematic Inspection on the Work of the Probation Service with Drug Misusers, HMIP, 1997, p 16. Back

254  Qs 658-659. Back

255  Q 754. Back

256  Q 447. Back

257  Appendix 9, section 6. Back

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Prepared 10 September 1998