The provision of drug and alcohol treatment in custody and its continuity once the offender is released into the community is crucial in reducing reoffending.

Currently, there are not enough offenders with substance misuse issues accessing community substance misuse treatment. That treatment, even when accessed, does not always meet offenders needs as well as it could.[1]

This case study examines the key factors driving success and failure in stopping reoffending, examples of how to improve offender management, and learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Adults with Substance Misuse Treatment in Prison

In England, there are currently 21,578 people in prison with substance misuse treatment needs. However, only 36% of those with need are engaged in treatment.

In London the number is even lower, with only 22.5% of the 2867 people in need engaging in treatment.

Some of the reasons for the low engagement are:

  • Substance misuse services have become ever more ‘treatment’ orientated, doing less engagement and harm reduction work
  • The treatment cohort is older and remains very opiate-based. The offender cohort is now younger and less likely to be opiate users
  • The Criminal justice referral pathway has changed from being the main pathway to one amongst many

There have been some successes, with a focus on integration and joint shared release plans between substance misuse, health, housing, and probation services helping to provide coordinated care.

Community services are engaging with offenders earlier, including prior to their release via either face-to-face visits or over the phone, helping build a rapport and trust sooner.

Escorting prisoners on release, with peer mentors being involved in the process as part of the ‘Through the Gate’ approach has also had a positive impact on offenders’ engagement with services once released.

There has also been a revamp of services in the community, helping them to be more attractive, accessible, and meet the needs of offenders recently released from prison.

What More can be Done?

In 2021, the government invested £80 million in substance misuse treatment services as part of their plan to reduce drug related crime and prevent drug related deaths.

Mark Dronfield, Operations Manager at Turning Point in Central London, believes this provides the opportunity to rejuvenate the partnership between substance misuse services and the criminal justice system.

Mark states that this can be done by reiterating that substance misuse support and treatment are key to reducing reoffending, and that substance misuse services need to frame themselves as reoffending reduction services.

To prove the importance of these services’ role in stopping reoffending, good practices have to be ramped up.

For Mark, this requires further integration of holistic plans between providers and the continued engagement work that is carried out prior to the release of the prisoner.

This then needs to be followed up with a data-led approach, that assesses and identifies those in need of enhanced support.

Also, the ‘frontloading’ of the more intensive support activities in the critical first two-week period can have a big impact on offenders’ engagement with the scheme.

This includes meeting those released at the gate, providing immediate, on-the-day access to housing and substance misuse treatment. Offering any additional health care services the person may require is also crucial at this stage.

Examples from the Field

In London, 11 offenders a day are released who are identified as having substance misuse needs. Forming strong local partnerships can be pivotal in keeping them from reoffending.

The Borough of Tower Hamlets and HMP Thameside have a dedicated ‘Through the Gate’ team and a practical, direct approach to pre-engagement, joint planning, and escorting upon release.

This has seen the area have a higher success and engagement rate than boroughs without such strong, established partnerships.

In Westminster, as well as in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Starting Point Plus Programme has been introduced.

This entails a structured two-week assessment for homeless offenders, and on the day of release provides an integrated package of accommodation, daily contact, substance misuse treatment, and other practical support.

The package is conditional on engagement with the treatment, and there is also engagement between new releases and those who have moved into longer term options at the end of the two-week period.

The Starting Point Plus Programme was based on research into what would make offenders engage in treatment, with solutions being driven by those released or about to be released from prison.

Recurring themes raised by prisoners were:

  • Housing
  • Family support
  • Activities to keep busy (gym, exercise classes etc)
  • A legitimate source of income
  • Community activities to give a sense of belonging[1]

Focusing on the requests of those the services are aimed at provides a strong base for other local authorities to follow suit.

Mark also emphasised that services are traditionally good at providing this kind of holistic support in the recovery phase, but there is still not enough pre-release engagement work focusing on these areas.

Learnings from Covid-19 and the Future

The Covid-19 crisis has shown examples of joint working where integrated and high quality support can engage even the most challenging individuals.

Whilst services cannot recreate the unique circumstances of the pandemic that led to the success of programmes like ‘Everyone In’, the programme which was launched at the start of the pandemic to protect rough sleepers, the integration of services was fundamental to success and can be repeated.

There is now an opportunity to work more closely with the criminal justice system to focus on harm reduction, engagement, and outreach.

This enables services to provide interventions that can reduce harm, reduce reoffending and promote engagement, whether the offender ‘completes’ treatment successfully or not.

[1]Dronfield, Mark. Turning Point. 2021. Offender Management and Rehabilitation: Substance Misuse ‘Through the Gate’.

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In 2021, the government invested £80 million in substance misuse treatment services as part of their plan to reduce drug related crime and prevent drug related deaths. This case study examines the key factors driving success and failure in stopping reoffending, examples of how to improve offender management, and learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic.

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