CSJ fix
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Second Chance Programme to tackle drug-related crime

The Centre for Social Justice wants a two year compulsory secure treatment approach to drug-fuelled shoplifting.

Desperate for a fix

A new (11 June 2018) report from the Centre for Social Justice recommends a rather hardline and extremely expensive approach to tackling drug-related shoplifting.

Here’s the gist of their argument:

Heroin and crack cocaine, along with the recent explosion in New Psychoactive Substances, are not only blighting communities but drive as much as half of all acquisitive crime — and 70 per cent of shop thefts.

Police recorded shop theft topped 385,000 offences last year, but the true figure, based on Home Office assumptions, is closer to 38 million offences. In 2017, we estimate shop theft cost up to £6.3bn — equivalent to £270 for every household in the country — and more than the average household’s monthly grocery shop.

At the same time, offenders with 36 or more previous convictions or cautions are responsible for an increasing proportion of theft offences dealt with by the criminal justice system — growing from 39 per cent in 2010 to more than 60 per cent last year. Over the same period, the even more prolific cohort of offenders, with more than 60 previous convictions, has doubled.  

 70 per cent of shop theft is committed by those addicted to heroin and crack cocaine. At the root of this problem is a complete failure to tackle the addictions that fuel the bulk of theft, with offenders cycling through a criminal justice system that offers fines, community sentences, short prison sentences, and threats, but nothing compelling in the way of true rehabilitation. 
 
The Think Tank proposes  a new intensive “Second Chance Programme” would see up to £250 million invested over five years, targeting up to 10,000 of the most prolific drug-addicted offenders. It uses shop theft as the trigger for tackling and reducing other more serious offending, such as burglary, and allows for a place-based approach to help clean up specific estates or towns blighted with crime and anti-social behaviour linked to prolific drug-addicted offenders.
 
The main features of this proposed programme are:
  • A two year programme with three key stages: “a secure phase; a residential phase and supportive phase”.
  • Flexible with individuals progressing through the stages but also being sent back if they relapse.
  • Individuals begin their sentence in a secure drug-free, pro-abstinence, environment, but conclude their sentence in the community with consistent support.
  • Modelled on desistance theory.

To me, this sounds like a souped-up Drugs Intervention Programme although the court-ordered treatment via Drug Testing and Treatment Orders (DTTOs) and their successors Community Orders with drug rehabilitation requirements (DRRs) were much less intensive and did not impose a loss of  liberty.

The Drugs Intervention Programme was introduced by the Home Office in 2003 to engage Class A dependent drug offenders in treatment and was funded to the tune of £114,652,800 in 2007/8. The Home Office DIP funding ceased in 2013 with a much reduced level of funding picked up by health and wellbeing boards and community safety partnerships, varying considerably across the country. The reduction in DIP funding and disinvestment in criminal justice focused interventions in the substance misuse sector have resulted in far fewer people entering treatment via the justice system as these figures from the National Drug Treatment Monitorign System show:

  • The proportion of new treatment presentations referred by arrest referral/DIP reduced from 11% in 2013/14 to 3% in 2016/17.
  • In 2013/14 5% of new presentations to treatment were referred by probation, by 2016/17 this proportion had fallen to 3%.
  • The proportion of new treatment presentations referred by prisons reduced from 9% in 2013/14 to 6% in 2016/17.

It is clear that we no longer have an effective route diverting drug-dependent offenders from crime into treatment.

At the same time, I question the CSJ approach for two main reasons:

  1. Is it proportional for shoplifters to be sentenced to the equivalent of a two year prison sentence?
  2. Despite the CSJ’s very close links to the Conservative Party, I don’t see where the additional £250 million investment they estimate this initiative will cost is coming from, especially given current projections showing the MoJ spending limit will be reduced by a cumulative 40% in real terms over the fiscal decade which ends in 2020. 

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