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Why the Drugs Intervention Programme is no longer fit for purpose

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The Drugs Intervention Programme (DIP) which seeks to engage drug using offenders into treatment at every point of the criminal justice system is due for a shakeup this April – and about time too.

The DIP was introduced in 2003 with the purpose of identifying drug users in police stations in courts and prisons, get them into drug treatment and provide them with a case management service through the arrest-charge-court-prison-release process. The DIP was heavily resourced to the tune of approximately £150million per year and had a very positive impact in two main ways:

  1. It succeeded in identifying large numbers of drug using offenders who had never been in contact with treatment services.
  2. It stimulated a substantial expansion in quick access services – typically those prescribing methadone as a heroin substitute. Commissioners quickly realised that they would lose the opportunity to engage with new service users if they didn’t make treatment more user-friendly and, critically, offer methadone within a few days instead of a few weeks.

When the DIP was launched, Home Office officials made a point of stressing that it was a short-term intervention designed to kickstart the closer operation of existing drug treatment interventions which already existed within the criminal justice system – arrest referral services at police stations, court ordered drug treatment (DTTOs, now DRRS), and prison-based services (CARAT teams).

It was the DIP’s misfortune that it was launched at the high point of the Labour government’s obsession with managerialism and so fell prey to excessive monitoring and reporting requirements. When the Restrictions on Bail requirements were introduced in 2005/6, DIP managers were required to provide data on every single offender on a weekly basis.

The pressure to meet targets meant that DIP Compact monitoring became close to obsessional. Instead of being a stopgap measure to facilitate a seamless provision of services across the criminal justice system, the DIP became an end in itself. The focus on achieving targets led to a substantial waste of resources.

Arrest referral workers spent countless hours in “custody suites” – as the cells at police stations are quaintly known – desperate to make contact with at least 90% of all those who were tested for drug use, in order to meet their target, even if this meant sitting around for hours with little to do.

In the same way, the DIP was designed to ensure that drug using offenders did not fall out of treatment every time they entered or left custody. However,  all too often the DIP case management system virtually duplicated the care management work of treatment providers.

DIP is still operational today. Official data from the Home Office and the National Treatment Agency shows that in the last financial year (2010/11) the 22 London boroughs running intensive DIPs made contact with 11,164 drug using offenders. 3733 (exactly one third) were recorded as being in treatment, 3208 (29%) were retained in treatment for 12 weeks  and just 721 (6%) were defined as successfully completing treatment – defined as being “free of dependency”.

The total DIP budget for these boroughs was £21,410,356. Therefore each successful referral into treatment cost just under £30,000. It’s important to remember that DIP does not pay for any of the treatment costs – that’s £30k just to identify, refer and monitor. Interestingly, the cost of  intensive drug treatment for a long term heroin and crack user – say six months in residential rehabilitation followed by a substantial period of after-care -works out to about only half this amount.

This April provides a real opportunity for DIPs to become much more effective for two reasons:

  • Firstly, some of the centrally imposed requirements and restrictions on how DIPs are required to function are being lifted.
  • Secondly, Police and Crime Commissioners will have control of the Home Office portion of DIP budgets – about £8 million in London. (The London PCC is already in place, elections in the rest of the country take place in the Autumn. @Public_i has done a great map of prospective candidates which is being continuously updated for those who are interested.)

These two developments provide a real opportunity for PCCs to re-focus DIP funds on providing treatment to drug using offenders, rather than just tracking and monitoring them. After all, getting drug using offenders into recovery-focused treatment is the only real way to tackle drug-related crime. The challenge will be to balance maintaining a sufficient presence in custody suites and courts to engage new drug users and developing enough fast access high quality treatment to get them off drugs and turn their lives around.

When I think about the DIP today, I am reminded of a story my friend Dave told me recently:

Dave recently took over as the Chief Executive of a small voluntary sector agency. Early on in his new job, the Chair of his Management Committee invited Dave to stay for a long weekend at his country house so that they could develop a good working relationship and do some strategic planning. When Dave turned up, it quickly became apparent just how well off the Chair was. The country house clearly used to belong to nobility and was surrounded by grounds that seemed to cover half the county.

The first afternoon, Dave and his host set out for a long walk to start getting down to business. After an enjoyable couple of hours, they returned to the house and Dave made a beeline for the front door desperate for a cup of tea only for his host to say:

“Oh you can’t go in there, we’ll go round the back”.

It turned out that the house was designed at a time when it would have been staffed by a healthy complement of servants and the door would only have been opened by the Butler or one of a number of Footmen. Dave’s host had no such airs and graces but since the door did not have a keyhole, it was never used.

Rather like the DIP, it is no longer fit for purpose.




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3 responses

  1. I worked for DIP in Birmingham Magistrates Court. I think you are perhaps being a tad harsh, if you don’t mind me saying.

    While you have a point about relentless monitoring and KPIs for everything, the guiding principle of providing seamless opportunities for offenders to address drug use issues is a good example of determined multi-agency partnership working.

    One of the successes was “Clips” – the web-based platform for all agencies involved (essentially nhs, police, probation, prisons) to coordinate case management.

    I saw great use of a dynamic database, with arrest referral workers assessing offenders in the police station and loading information on to Clips. Later that morning Joe Lag would appear in court and our PSOs had early access on their computers to this recent, usually pretty comprehensive, appraisal. They could approach offenders in the court cells armed with vital information which gave them confidence.

    We’d apply for bail and refer onwards under bail conditions to a quick appointment with treatment providers such as Swanswell (DSB as was). If remanded we’d send contact notes to CARAT teams in the prisons, with the idea that they would use the same assessment information and add to it.

    I can’t honestly think of a better way in which these organisations – police, NHS, probation and prisons – have cooperated and streamlined resources in such an effective way. It didn’t always work perfectly, of course, but for every example of breakdown you show me I would have one of good practice.

    In terms of measuring performance, as you say, it was done! Most of the statistical evidence I have seen points to some, varying degrees of success in rehabilitating and reducing reoffending. As you know, any success in this world is likely to be modest, and dependent on proper funding and devoted practitioners, and should be applauded.

    DIP is (was?) an example of what I always assumed NOMS was meant to be about – coordinated offender management. Unfortunately, prisons and probation still have some way to go in terms of joined-up working, despite the fact that their “client base” (ugh!) is almost identical. DIP was a mini-success. Integrated Offender Management and other such modern, multi-agency designs, could do worse than attempt to follow and improve upon some of its ground-breaking developments.

  2. I was involved as the communications lead responsible for stakeholder engagement on DIP nationally for six years. It was a genuine step-change in strategic and tactical partnership between agencies, bold and radical in its day. However, it was meant to be a three-year programme, retained for longer as it was yielding results in reducing drug-related crime. I was involved for six years, until spring 2010. I believed then that the programme needed an exit strategy. The new processes DIP introduced were always intended to become the norm, just the way agencies worked together to tackle drug-misusing offenders. It was not envisaged there would be permanent standalone units with dedicated budgets and staff, either centrally or locally, and ongoing bureaucracy around effectiveness. It is as though this programme went three-quarters of the way to its intended destination and then lost its sense of purpose. Of course, tracking and monitoring was essential to justify the initial years’investment and prove the value of such interventions to the cynics in the CJS and the drug treatment world. That has been accomplished. DIP has shown its effectiveness but it is now time to move on, probably three or four years too late, and decide what needs to happen next. As a candidate in the election for Police & Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire – which had the distinction of administering the one millionth DIP drug test a couple of years ago – I look forward to being part of the debate.

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