DDN_April_2024 DDN April 2024 | Page 7

this revolving door , it warned that with MoJ anticipating an increase in anything up to 6,800 in community caseloads there were also real concerns over the additional pressure on ‘ probation services , commissioned rehabilitative service providers , and the wider voluntary sector working with people in the community ’. These would all need to be adequately resourced to meet the increased demand , it stressed .
The move away from short prison sentences is undoubtedly a welcome one , however . As Professor Dame Carol Black pointed out in the first part of her Independent review of drugs , more than a third of the-then
While the overall reoffending rate is 25 per cent , the rate for those serving sentences of under 12 months is more than 50 per cent , rising to 58 per cent for sentences of six months or less .
82,000 people in prison were there for – mostly acquisitive – crimes related to their drug use . Most were serving short sentences , which obviously gave little time for any kind of effective treatment and created a situation where drug users were ‘ cycling in and out of our prisons , at great expense but very rarely achieving recovery or finding meaningful work ’. There were also ‘ significant problems with the transition of prisoners to community treatment on release ’, she added , with most people highly likely to reoffend . While the overall reoffending rate is 25 per cent , the rate for those serving sentences of under 12 months is more than 50 per cent , rising to 58 per cent for sentences of six months or less .
CUSTODIAL ALTERNATIVES So what are the best alternatives to short sentences ? Last year ’ s report from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee ( DDN , September 2023 , page 4 ) recommended improved use of diversion schemes – where the police don ’ t involve the courts in cases of low-level offending – as an ‘ important tool ’ in reducing drug-related crime as part of a wider shift to ‘ public-health based interventions ’, but added that provision was at present a postcode lottery .
‘ It definitely is , but there ’ s work underway to correct that ,’
Jason Kew , senior innovative practice officer at the Centre for Justice Innovation and combating drugs partnership lead for Berkshire , tells DDN . ‘ Professor Alex Stevens is leading the national diversion evaluation for the Cabinet Office , so next year we should see a recommended model from that learning and that should encourage all forces .’
Until 2021 Kew was detective chief inspector at Thames Valley Police , and it was there that he helped to develop that force ’ s successful diversion scheme ( see box , page 8 ). Several organisations are currently involved in making the evidence-based case for a move to a diversion model , he says , adding that most forces probably already operate some kind of diversion scheme , even if only on a de facto basis .
And in February this year MoJ reported on the progress of its ‘ intensive supervision courts ’ which have been piloted with almost 60 offenders in Birmingham , Liverpool and Teesside since last summer . As well as engaging with treatment , offenders meet regularly with the same judge and are also subject to random drug testing by probation officers . A study into the effectiveness of the courts is currently being undertaken by Revolving Doors in partnership with CFE Research and the University of Greenwich .
SIGNIFICANT IMPACT A move away from short sentences should also help to address the not inconsiderable issue of people developing a drug problem while actually in prison . A 2020 report from Reform stated that almost 15 per cent of prisoners said they ’ d
The projections may seem surprising given lord chancellor Alex Chalk ’ s announcement last October that the government intended to legislate for a ‘ presumption against prison sentences of less than 12 months ’ – to be replaced by community sentences , alongside better access to drug treatment and mental health services .
developed a drug problem while in prison – double the rate from a decade ago – with a ‘ significant ’ impact on violence levels . Reducing the use of short custodial sentences to ease overcrowding was one of its recommendations at the time , with Forward chief executive Mike Trace commenting that more and more prisoners were getting ‘ pulled in to the prison drug market ’ with ‘ fewer opportunities for them to use their time in prison to turn away from drugs and crime ,’ ( DDN , February 2020 , page 4 ).
The scale of the problem was recently illustrated in the alarming March 2024 report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons on HMP Hindley near Wigan , which found a ‘ near tsunami ‘ of illegal drugs , with a positive test rate of more than 52 per cent – ‘ meaning that well over half the population were active drug users while we were inspecting ’, it stated .
One encouraging development , however , is the growth of drug-free wings in prisons – as of a year ago there were drug-free wings operating in 45 establishments in England
UK Parliament ( Jessica Taylor , Maria Unger , Andy Bailey )