Keep up-to-date with drugs and crime

The latest research, policy, practice and opinion on our criminal justice and drug & alcohol treatment systems
Breaking Free and digital behaviour change for people in prison
The Breaking Free Group specializes in digital behaviour change programmes for people with addictions.

Share This Post

Digital support in prison

This is the third in my new series of posts profiling well-known British companies with proven digital expertise in the criminal justice sector. As well as providing a picture of the company and its products, I’ll be asking why so many British tech companies in the sector are more successful at selling their wares in other countries, despite starting their journey on these shores.

This week’s post looks at the work of the Breaking Free Group (part of TELUS Health) which specialises in developing digital behaviour change programmes for people with drug and alcohol problems. Breaking Free is a UK company founded in 2010 and their online programmes will be well known to many readers working in the drug and alcohol field.

Breaking Free designed the only online substance misuse programme which is accredited by HMPPS and the programme is widely available in prisons in England and Wales. Despite this, the programme is not currently available to people on probation in the community, including those on DRR programmes (unless their treatment provider provides access to it).

The company also provides the programme to people in prison in 14 different US states in a range of different institutions, as well as multiple county and city jails. The programme  is rolled out across 31 different custodial establishments in the state of Ohio which has allowed for rigorous evaluation. You can watch a short video explaining the US version of the prison Breaking Free programme below.

The prison version of the programme has been completely re-written to reflect life inside.  It contains additional information about strategies and skills for refusing offers of drugs in prison in addition to extra emphasis on overdose awareness and management because of the increased risk of overdose deaths on release. The programme retains its emphasis on planning purposeful activity, but this has been modified to reflect what people can do in prison to get a sense of achievement and purpose. The programme is used across all different types of prisons including the male and female estate, and for institutions with differing levels of security. Due to its success in engaging high rates of women compared to what is expected with in-person services, additional research is currently underway to better understand this area of interest.

Differences between UK and US

The availability of secure tablets to people in prison is far more universal in the USA. This easy and continuous access to the programme means that it is more heavily used. Monitoring in the US found that people in prison were using the Breaking Free programme 24 hours a day including very many people engaging in the middle of the night. My assumption is that many people alone in their cell, unable to sleep because of concerns about their life, both in prison and on release, have found a positive coping strategy in accessing the programme.

The easy access to the programme across the US criminal justice system means that people’s progress on their recovery journeys and continuous access to online support is not interrupted when they move between institutions or are released.

Compare this situation to this country, where only a small number of our recently built prisons provide easy access to digital help and support, meaning that this help is vulnerable to interruption when someone moves on in their sentence.

On a positive note, the new HMPPS telemedicines project will help, since the Breaking Free programme will be on secure laptops for people in prison to use. However, access will be much more limited compared to the situation in the US.

Despite what we think of as a much more restrictive custodial environment in the USA, access to technology is much more widespread and the associated risks appear to be managed much more appropriately and proportionately than in this country. New initiatives are rigorously tested but, if successful, are rolled out rapidly in a manner which we just don’t see in the UK.

Share This Post

Related posts

The role of technology in offender rehabilitation

A new commentary paper from the team at Breaking Free discusses the increasingly significant role new technologies, specifically digital technologies, are playing in the rehabilitation of offenders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Innovation posts sponsored by Socrates 360

The smart solution to communication, information, and education in secure settings and beyond.

Socrates Software is  working with Probation Services, Prison Services and some of the UK’s premier private companies bringing innovation and life-changing improvements to the sector by providing a “mobile mentor” via tablets and smartphones for Prisons and the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme.


The Future of Resettlement

Socrates 360, mobile mentor, is a true Through The Gates solution for the prison and probation sector. For use by prisoners, probationers and staff.


Get every blog post by email for free