Sentencing drug and alcohol using offenders

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The Centre for Justice Innovation's evidence and practice briefing on the criminal court response to substance misuse.

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Reducing reoffending and drug & alcohol misuse

Last week the Centre for Justice Innovation (CJI)  published a new evidence and practice briefing on:  Enhancing the Criminal Court Response to Substance Misuse. The briefing aims to support practitioners seeking to enhance their court-based response to substance misuse by providing:

  • The evidence on the link between substance misuse and offending;
  • A summary of the evidence base on what works to reduce reoffending for individuals coming to court with substance misuse issues, both internationally and in the UK;
  • A snapshot of the innovative ‘problem-solving’ court practice we have identified which is seeking to enhance the court response to substance misuse in the UK today;
  • Lessons for practitioners who are seeking to enhance their response to substance misuse as part of a community sentence or as an alternative to custody.
 

There are well-established links between substance misuse (both illicit drug use, especially opiates and crack, and problematic alcohol consumption) and crime. Summaries of the evidence on reducing reoffending from both the Ministry of Justice and the Scottish Government highlight that drug treatment programmes generally have a positive impact on reoffending and offer value for money, and they identify that there is good evidence that alcohol-related interventions can help reduce hazardous drinking.

Four best practice sites

Recognising this, the criminal courts in the UK have long had the ability to order individuals convicted of a crime to undertake testing and treatment as part of a community sentence. CJI identified four projects seeking to enhance these standard treatment and testing offers, through the adoption of evidence based ‘problem-solving’ practice and found enhanced features common to these four projects, including:

  • Effective judicial monitoring: Practitioners repeatedly highlighted the importance of judicial monitoring, where judges monitor the progress of those who have offended. The sites stressed the importance of the consistency of the same judge appearing at each review hearing, to ensure there is continuity and consistency of approach. In addition to consistency, practitioners in the four sites also highlighted the importance of the skills of the judges to offer regular feedback directly to individuals, to motivate and inspire them to do better than they thought they were capable of.
  • Fast-tracked access to treatment: Acceptance onto one of these community treatment programmes means quicker assessments and speedier access to interventions. For people with chaotic lifestyles and insecure accommodation, sending appointment letters for a couple of weeks’ time can lead to missed appointments and missed opportunities.
  • Customised support: Once accepted onto a programme, participants receive a comprehensive and tailored treatment plan. They must agree to engage in treatment, regular drug and alcohol testing, but also receive additional support from third sector agencies for needs such as mental health.
  • Recognition of success. A number of the practitioners we spoke with emphasised the value of holding ‘graduations’ to acknowledge the participants’ progress and achievements.
© Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile Winter 2019

Advice for new schemes

CJI asked practitioners at these four pilot sites what advice they would give to others wishing to enhance their court’s response to people whose offending is driven by their dependency on drugs and or alcohol:

  • Establish clarity of aims and expectations at the start: Practitioners were clear that schemes of this kind need to have a clear and shared understanding of the programme’s aim and what is expected of staff and participants.
  • Partnership working rests on open and honest communication: Practitioners highlighted that the partnership working that was needed to make these schemes work required open, honest communication between partners.
  • Raising awareness of realities of substance misuse and treatment across the workforce: Across the four projects, practitioners were keen to highlight the importance of specialist drug training for staff to ensure a greater understanding of the clients’ treatment needs and the process involved.

[Russell’s note: Community Sentence Treatment Requirements (the community sentence option for people whose offending is linked to any or all of their alcohol misuse, drug misuse and mental health) is currently being rolled out across 13 sites in England. You can find the process evaluation of the first stage of CSTRs here.]

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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